Habitat for Humanity shifts to rehab and thinks in blocks: editorial

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Habitat for Humanity shifts to rehab and thinks in blocks: editorial

April 15, 2013 [The Plain Dealer]

The local chapter of the faith-based Habitat for Humanity has joined the Hallelujah chorus that embraces rehabilitation as part of a smart and sustainable strategy to restore a sense of community to neighborhoods plagued by zombie properties.


That is especially heartening news to inner-city activists who  are seeking alternatives to the wrecking ball.

The decision to focus on restoration rather than new construction in Greater Cleveland is a welcome departure from Habitat’s traditional mission: “Building homes in partnership with God’s people in need.”

For the many families teetering on real fiscal cliffs, that approach had lost its effectiveness. Rehabs cost a fraction of what new construction requires; that makes it easier for needy families to afford the payments — a critical consideration in tough economic times, even though Habitat subsidizes the costs and requires owner sweat equity.

Last year, Greater Cleveland Habitat was forced to file 15 foreclosure actionsagainst tenants who had stopped making mortgage payments, according to John Habat, executive director of the local chapter.

The lower cost of rehab also makes it possible for the organization, in collaboration with community development corporations and the Cuyahoga land bank, to address a more ambitious agenda: renovating part of a block, not just building single homes.

The plan targets six vacant properties on Colfax Road in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood and another half dozen on Clement Avenue in Slavic Village.

The Mt. Pleasant NOW Development Corp. will sell the Colfax properties to Greater Cleveland Habitat for $15,000 each, Habat said.

The land bank already has donated two of the residences in Slavic Village to Greater Cleveland Habitat. The other four houses on Clement are going through tax foreclosure. Once they’ve been foreclosed, the land bank should get title to the properties, and will donate them, too, Habat said.

He cited $200,000 as the average cost for Habitat — which operates on a $2.5 million annual budget — to build a new home. The average cost of rehab is about $50,000.

“We’ve moved from building houses to building communities,” Habat said. That’s where the future is.