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Habitat For Humanity Building Homes in Brookings. SD.Volunteers at a work site.

Brookings REALTORS Team Up with Habitat For Humanity

By Anthony SanFilippo
August 2018

Habitat for Humanity has a mission to ensure that every person has a decent place to live. It’s one of the most notable non-profit organizations in the world, building homes for people in need in all 50 states as well as 70 other countries in the world.

The process of building homes for people is a long one, and it comes with many challenges – none greater than finding partners who can advocate for the families or individuals moving into a Habitat home. The partner needs to walk these new homeowners – many who are owning a home for the first time – through the design, construction and homebuying process and then be there with these new homeowners for the first year after they are in their new home.

Eight Families

In Brookings, South Dakota, a small community of less than 25,000 residents, finding these types of partners is even harder.

But, in early 2017, the Brookings Area Habitat for Humanity had an idea come up in one of their board meetings – how about partnering with REALTORS®?

“I reached out to the East Central South Dakota REALTORS® and quite frankly, the response from that organization was overwhelming,” said Dan McColley, the executive director and chief mission officer for the Brookings Area Habitat for Humanity. “We now have a waiting list of folks from that organization who want to help. It’s such a long list that we can’t find qualifying families fast enough.”

The East Central South Dakota REALTORS® first got involved with family No. 64 in Brookings in early 2017. Now, in the summer of 2018, they are still partnering with Habitat, and are on family No. 71.

Eight families in a little more than a year is a sizeable number.

“Our building capacity with our volunteer staff is about three houses a year in Brookings County,” McColley said. “This year, with the help of the REALTORS®, we have two additional houses in a neighboring community, Madison, so we’re pretty busy.”

Of the eight houses that the REALTORS® have been involved with in the past year, three are completed and the residents are working with the REALTORS® to learn how to be good home owners. The other five are still under construction.

“Our goal is to educate the new homeowners and teach the families to have pride in homeownership,” said Kelan Bludorn, president of the East Central South Dakota REALTORS®. “Habitat does a great job with their program, but we want to hold the partner family’s hand through the entire build process. We are able to accomplish this by discussing the benefits of homeownership, assisting throughout the entire build, providing basic knowledge on home maintenance as well as providing information about maintaining equity in the home. It can be stressful for anyone, so we (REALTORS®) really focus on making it a positive experience.”

Making Families Thrive

That is important to Habitat for Humanity because they want to see the individuals and families in their homes thrive.

According to McColley, of the 71 homes that were built or are still being built, there are 45 active mortgages – the rest have since been sold, meaning those homeowners were able to reap the rewards of homeownership during the sale of their home.

Individuals or families approved for a Habitat mortgage are currently renting, living with family or own something substandard. The way they qualify for a habitat mortgage is to fall within very specific income guidelines.

“The most important thing is they have to have a need for housing.”

“The most important thing is they have to have a need for housing,” McColley said, although that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily in a dire situation. “It could be that their current housing is either too expensive, unsafe or too small. One of the families we are working with right now have a two-bedroom condominium that is perfectly lovely, the problem is they have four children, so it’s too small. Or a family can be living in a very nice place but may be paying more than 50 percent of their income. So, they need to live in a place that is more affordable.”

Habitat does not make a distinction on choosing families in need ahead of individuals or couples. It falls under the same regulations as a bank. If the applicants meet the qualifications, they are generally awarded a mortgage.

“We do not have a waiting list,” McColley said. “Affiliates with waiting lists will sometimes prioritize families over others based on need. We aren’t in that situation. In 2017, we built for a single woman and we built for a family of six – and they live across the street from one another.”

Built By Volunteers

It takes a little longer for the houses to be built for these folks as Habitat does not have its own construction company.

“Habitat builds houses in the least efficient way possible,” joked McColley. “We use volunteer labor, supervised by a professional home builder, and on a build day – we might have 10 people show up or we might have two people there. So, it takes longer than a traditional homebuilding company.”

The family has to work alongside the builders in building their own home, though.

Habitat homes are uncomplicated in their design and are typically a smaller footprint. But, if someone has to make a decision between carpet or laminate floor, for example, the family gets to choose. But their choices are limited. They don’t get to choose their cabinets because cabinets are donated.

“At our first meeting I might tell the family, ‘Your cabinets are going to be honey oak, so let’s choose a floor and a countertop that will go with that,’” said McColley. “Within a price range, they get to choose their carpet, or the kind of laminate floor or tile – same thing with lighting fixtures, etc. They get to customize a little bit.”

And now, when Habitat needs a partner, it’s no longer a hassle to find one – at least not in the Brookings area.

“When we approve a family, I send an email to (East Central South Dakota REALTORS® Association Executive) RaeAnn (Thompson) and say, we’re ready for the next one, and she gets us a name,” McColley said. “Everyone moving forward will be partnered with the REALTORS® and we couldn’t be happier.”


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