Tell me about Habitat for Humanity

The title says it all. I would like to know about Habitat for Humanity as an organization, how to volunteer, what volunteers get/have to do, who qualifies for help, etc. Personal stories of your interactions with H4H are encouraged.


H4H has groups in various cities around the world the build home for qualified applicants. Volunteers are recruites, material donated, work organized, and the prospective home owner must also contribute “sweat equity.” They work with the volunteers to acquire a pride in accomplishment and ultimate ownership.
Twin Cities H4H
For additional information: Habitat for Humanity

Hi: Habitat for Humanity builds homes for those who live in substandard housing…I belong to the local Lions Club and we partner with Habitat to build houses in our region.

Our first house was for a couple who had twins with some affliction that they were pretty much immobile…and needed these huge electric chairs. At the time, they were all living in a one bedroom apartment.

habitat is fairly strict - the houses are not free - they require “sweat equity” which is a certain number of hours put in by the family then the mortgage, interest free, is calculated and paid by the family over a certain number of years.
They have a website and are an awesome organization. If you ever have a few extra hours and there is a build in your area, show up with a hammer/saw/paintbrush/ just yourself and put in a few hours. It’s great!

They also do multiple builds, i.e. 10 houses in 30 days, etc in areas where they have more land available to them.

Habitat for Humanity is really a great organization, though the groups I encountered were somewhat religious (at the time, I was volunteering through my church so I didn’t mind . . . I probably wouldn’t mind now, either, but it was something I noticed).

The only “problem” I remember was that we weren’t scheduled very well: there were always way more unskilled volunteers than needed on a site. It was frustrating to show up ready to work and wind up standing around for hours (often in the cold). It’s what ultimately made me decide to stop volunteering with them, but it wouldn’t keep me from volunteering again – I know it was probably just my group. :slight_smile:

I helped build a house for H4H about 10 years ago in College Station, TX. We had a large number of students helping out so I didn’t get to contribute as much as I would have liked. It was a lot of fun though, and it felt great when we were finally done and the family could start moving in.

A lot of the big city banks in London have corporate charity days at the Habitat for Humanity site in south London. We did in August; good fun. Not a religious element in sight, hard but rewarding work.

Hi there, Fox Paws. I’ll point my husband in this direction, as he works for HfH, but will also add my two cents while I’m here. :slight_smile:

Overall, I think the organization is great and has a wonderful reputation. As to your specific questions:

How to Volunteer
Call up your local chapter. In some cases, you may not be able to volunteer the very next weekend; some chapters have waiting lists. While this may seem annoying, it can prevent experiences like Misnomer’s.

What Volunteers Do
Your volunteer day may begin with a short chat about Habitat and its goals, followed by safety information for when you’re on site. I believe most chapters of HfH build new homes, but here in Baltimore City we renovate existing rowhouses. As a volunteer, I’ve helped demo walls in an old building, frame out windows, and painted. If you work with a chapter that builds new, you miss out on the fun of swinging a sledgehammer and other antics involved in demolition. :wink: As a volunteer, you are not expected to have any particular skills (though they gladly work with folks who do!) and will receive instructions and guidance from the HfH staff member working on your site. Regular volunteers may bring their own tools, etc., but you are not required nor expected to do so.

Additionally, though the building of homes is at the core of what Habitat does, chapters often need other types of assistance: preparing mailings, proofreading news releases, answering phones, developing web sites, bringing lunches to work sites, etc. If you don’t think swinging a hammer on site is your cup of tea, you can always ask what other assistance your chapter needs. :slight_smile:

Who Qualifies for Help
Though I believe the qualifications vary from chapter to chapter, there are some general guidelines. I’ll let my husband speak to this area.

Cheers / moi

I worked for HfH twice, once in Hartford, CT for two months and again in Kingston, NY, also for two months. The Habitats were wildly different – Hartford had a HUGE volunteer base and constructed several homes a year. Kingston had five retired men who completed maybe one house a year.

Habitat does not “give away” homes – they sell houses to families for only what it cost to build the house, such as materials and supplies. They do not charge on labor, which is why Habitat enables people to become homeowners who otherwise would never be able to afford a house. Habitat usually purchases lots on which to build the houses, but sometimes they’re given the land as gifts or donated by the city. They employ almost all volunteer labor (there’s only a few employees, such as electricians) which is why the families can buy the homes so cheaply. Also, each family is required to put in a required number of hours helping construct not only their own house, but also other Habitat houses.

Habitat prides itself on building simple but decent housing, and each affiliate has plans for houses specifically designed for each area. Exactly how large the house is depends on the size of the family – the largest house I ever worked on had five bedrooms, for a family of ten (2 parents, 8 children). Each family has to meet certain requirements before Habitat will break ground on a house. You have to have good credit, attend classes on homeownership, and show that your current residence is unsafe or inadequete. Both Habitats had far more applicants than they could possibly build for – Kingston built 1 house a year, and every year received 100 applicants.

In Hartford we were so swamped with volunteers they were turning them away every day. There’s only so many people who can work on a house at the same time, much less enough tools for everyone. Kingston had honestly ZERO volunteer base, no one, zilch, nada, except for the five retirees and an Americorps team.

Habitat is a Christian-based organization, but they don’t discriminate on either volunteers or families based on religion. In Hartford they held group prayer before starting work, while in Kingston there was no religious element at all.

Oh, forgot to mention my interactions with the future homeowners. In Hartford, we worked on probably seven houses at different times. All the homeowners I met were single moms (one had been a juvenile delinquent on that “Scared Straight” program – she was one of my favorites). Most were Jamaican immigrants. In Kingston we only worked with one family, a grandmother raising her 2 grandkids.

Btw: Nebraska HfH

HFH Construction Manager here,

The posters above have already hit most of the high points, but if you have specific questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. As to my personal experience with HFH, I started as a volunteer, became an Americorps memeber (a great program in it’s own right, btw) and was hired as staff upon completion of my hours. It;s easily the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done with my life. Although the hours are long and the pay is low, I really beleive in our mission and love working with volunteers.

Here in Baltimore, we do 100% rehab of brick row house,s, which makes us fairly unique. Most affiliates build 2-3 bedroom ranch style houses in new developments. Their greatest challenge is often aquiring land. (Likewise, our great challenge is purchasing homes to rehab)

A typical day for a volunteer at our affiliate goes something like this:

8:00 arrive at volunteer center and sign in
8:30 orientation and safety talk, then depart for site
8:45 arrive at site, additional safety information, begin work
11;45 pack up for lunch
12:00 - 1:00 lunch at volunteer center
1:15 arrive back at site, continue work
3:30 begin clean up for day
4:00 depart site

Our volunteers assist in every phase, including demolition, framing, insulation, drywall, paint, trim, ext work, ect. We have a volunteer HVAC contractor who donates labor to install our heating, and we occaisnally get electric, plumbing and roofing services donated. We also have volunteer architects, computer support, office workers and so on.

Hope that answers some of your questions.