The season of giving may have ended, but the need to help Sheboygan families still remains well throughout the year.
At Habitat for Humanity Lakeside, the staff and volunteers continue day-in and day-out to put God’s love into action by building homes, communities and hope right here in Sheboygan, doing their part to help create a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
“We provide a hand up, not a hand out,” explained Niki Zohrab, Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity Lakeside. “In our Home Buyer Program where we build or rehab a home, we sell it to a home buyer in the low-to-moderate income bracket, with an affordable mortgage based on their income, not the value of the home. This way we are able to provide them with stability, a safe place to live, and they can build equity and generational wealth.”
Home buyer families must meet certain criteria to qualify for Habitat’s program. All families must have lived or worked in Sheboygan County for at least six months and fall into the low-to-moderate income bracket as determined by the Sheboygan County Area Median Income level and must have a need for housing.
“We look for a couple things to identify a need for housing,” Zohrab explained. “Is their current housing greater than 30% of the gross household income? Maybe it doesn’t meet the physical needs of the family members. Is the applicant family living in unsanitary conditions or experiencing health risks in their current housing?”
The program also requires that families will have the ability to pay.
“This is where the hand up, not hand out comes in,” Zohrab said. “The house is not a gift. It is an opportunity for them to rise out of their current circumstances.”
From there, the buyers must also be willing to partner with Habitat to put in the proper sweat equity hours on the build sites and willing to complete the financial training to provide the tools needed to succeed as homeowners. It’s Habitat’s mission to truly set these families up for success even beyond the home buying process.
“For the Home Buyer program in particular, we form a strong relationship with the family as they go through the process which can be up to two years at times. They work alongside us on the build sites, in the ReStore and office, and they become part of the Habitat family,” Zohrab said. “The dedication day can be a very emotional one, because we are seeing their dream come to fruition, and they have worked hard for it.
“We aim to maintain that relationship after they move into their homes, and be here for them as someone they can come to for advice in how to be a homeowner and taking on those responsibilities,” she continued. “That can be a very big change for a family who has always lived in rental property.”
Habitat’s Home Repair program works in a very similar manner, working with current home owners who fall in the same low-to-moderate income bracket that have critical repairs or aging home needs.
Financial donations are essential for Habitat to continue these programs. While the organization receives discounted or donated materials and uses a lot of volunteer labor, the out-of-pocket costs are approximately $150,000 for a basic home. This doesn’t include the salary and benefit expenses for the construction team who lead the volunteers or any overhead expenses.
“Sometime as small as a $10 donation may help us buy a case of water for build volunteers in the middle of summer,” Zohrab explained. “Donations can be made through our website, habitatlakeside.com, and can be made in all forms. Online, checks mailed to us, contributions from donor advised funds, stock, cryptocurrency, or tribute gifts, planned giving and bequests. There are all sorts of different ways, whether it is immediate, or in the future.”
The ReStore provides another valuable resource for the community, taking in building materials, furniture, home goods, appliances under a certain age, garden and holiday items that can be sold at low prices to new families. This also provides the community with an opportunity to keep these valuable, gently used items out of area landfills.
In addition to helping local families, ReStore also serves as an income source for Habitat’s Home Buyer, Home Repair and Rock the Block programs as revenue from the stores goes directly toward supporting those programs in the community.
“We bring people together through partnerships in the community, donations and volunteering,” Zohrab said. “We have people help us on the build sites, in the ReStore, office, on committees utilizing their professional skills, and of course on our Board of Directors. There are so many different ways to get involved, if it’s just for half a day, or on a more regular basis. As our mission statement says, it’s about bringing people together.”
And when people are brought together, the entire community thrives.
“The neighborhood as a whole benefits from a new or improved home, which increases values in the surrounding area, and a more stable community,” Zohrab added. “Without the gifts of time, funds and items to the ReStore, we would not exist, and we could not be able to complete our work in the community.”
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