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Habitat for humanity seeks applications for 2010 house

Every year for the past two decades, Northwoods Habitat for Humanity has built houses. And usually, applications from families pour in.

This year, however, only one family has applied for the house planned for construction this summer. Geri Hickerson, local Habitat for Humanity director, said normally at least 15 families would have applied for consideration for the house by now.

"People, with all this mortgage stuff going on, are reluctant to think about home ownership," she said. "People are afraid to even think about going into a mortgage."

The difference between Habitat for Humanity and other mortgage companies is the no-interest loan Habitat provides. Consequently, fluctuations in the market or variable interest rates don't affect Habitat mortgages, she said.

"We know there are people out there who qualify," Hickerson said.

With Habitat acting as the bank, if a homeowner were to be laid off or ran into financial difficulties, the mortgage holder would work with them. If the family can pay their insurance and taxes and is making a true effort to get back to solvency, Habitat can adjust the loan payment timeline.

Hickerson said a family approved for a house chooses the part of town they would like to reside in, but she said the 2910 house would most likely be built on a lot at the corner of Sixth Street and Stoner Avenue Southeast in Nymore. The design of the home also depends on the needs of the family.

Hickerson said the highest mortgage on a Bemidji Habitat house was $92,000. All houses are appraised after construction and range in value from $96,000 to $113,000 because of the in-kind contributions.

Northwoods Habitat for Humanity has built 31 houses in Bemidji since 1990, as well as a house in Blackduck and a house in Bagley. Last year, the organization built three houses and rehabilitated a fourth.

But this year might be a time to examine the program and decide if there should be some adjustments in future plans. Habitat families take the Home Stretch course and work with volunteer Family Support and Family Services teams to learn home maintenance skills.

Families are selected based on:

- Need of decent, affordable housing.

- Adequate, verifiable income within guidelines. For example, the range for a family of four is between $20,520 and $36,090 annually.

- Debt-to-income ratio is within acceptable limits.

- Acceptable credit history.

- Willingness to put in 250 hours per adult in the household of construction sweat equity.

- Agreement to keep the house clean and in good repair inside and out.

Applications are available online at

"The American dream is to be able to live in your own home and build some equity," Hickerson said.

But home ownership versus being a perpetual renter tends to be a generational characteristic. People who grew up in rentals in families with no thoughts of home ownership copy that pattern.

"A couple of our newer families said, 'I never thought of buying a house,'" Hickerson said. "They need the hand up to get out of that cycle."