Homeowner hardships: Habitat for Humanity trying to improve home affordability

Female volunteers paint a Habitat for Humanity home. The agency is trying to make homes more affordable for Central Florida residents.

Juanita Wright was continually getting turned down when trying to find affordable housing, and had to settle for a run-down, unsafe home.

But when Habitat for Humanity stepped in to mentor her, she improved her credit score and is now moving into the house of her dreams in August.

“I didn’t give up,” says the 50-year old Orlando resident. “I continued to keep going. Habitat definitely helped. They sat down with me and told me what I needed to do.”

Central Florida is the worst in the U.S. when it comes to affordable housing, according to the Affordable Housing Gap Analysis by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And Osceola County is no exception. The annual income needed to afford a two-bedroom home in the county is $47,600, however, 60 percent of households in Osceola are either in poverty or qualify as an ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). Habitat for Humanity has launched a national advocacy campaign – Cost of Home – to improve home affordability for 10 million people in the U.S. over the next five years.

“Housing across the country is skyrocketing and income hasn’t kept up with rising costs,” said Betsy Culpepper, vice president of marketing for Habitat’s Greater Orlando & Osceola office.

“Housing affects everything,” she said. “When you have an affordable home, you can concentrate on other things like food and healthcare. Many have to make a decision – pay rent or healthcare. It’s totally unacceptable to have to make that decision.”

One in six U.S. families spend half or more of their income on housing.

The Cost of Home campaign is a “concerted effort to bring about change,” Culpepper said.

The Cost of Home is focusing on these areas: increasing the supply of affordable homes, increasing access to credit, optimizing land use for affordable housing, ensuring access to and development of communities and making sure that existing housing trust funds are actually used for affordable housing.

The Florida State Legislature consistently reallocates the funds for unrelated uses.

“We need to do something and it needs to be through legislative action locally and statewide,” said Culpepper. “This is a national issue. We wanted to do a national campaign. We are all in this together.”

Wright said her current employer, Manheim Auto Auction, has been by her side through this entire process. She is still in shock that she is about to move into a new home.

“I am excited. It hasn’t really hit me yet,” she explained.

Habitat for Humanity requires applicants to show a need for housing, attend classes about homeownership and volunteer hours for a down payment.

The average monthly mortgage payment for a Habitat homeowner is $520.

Catherine Steck McManus, president and CEO of Habitat Orlando & Osceola, said, “We can’t reach our vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live without addressing the underlying policies and systems that hinder access to housing.

Solving the nation’s home affordability challenge will take all of us working together.” Habitat is encouraging anyone who wants to help to check out the website habitatorlandoosceola.org.