[Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity]
Story by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dennis Krull, 5foot20 design lounge
With 90 volunteers from around the country and roughly 600 local volunteers, Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity is ready to take on the impossible. With a plan to build three homes...in 10 days, the massive project will run from June 19th to the 29th. In the midst of raising funds and sponsorships for their triple build, we sat down with the Habitat team and all three recipient families to find out how we can help. If you're on the fence about giving or volunteering, we urge you to get to know these families and find out how a fresh start for them can mean a positive impact on our entire community.
The Blitz Home Builders + Habitat for Humanity
Last year, Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity was selected to work with an organization called the Blitz Home Builders. This group is composed of volunteers from around the country, representing 38 states. They specialize in expedited builds and have completed over 70 homes spanning from New Jersey to Hawaii. "We are very honored they selected us," said Pete Christopher, Development Manager for Habitat. "Out of nearly 1,400 Habitat affiliates, they only choose one every year."
The lot sites are located just off Sheyenne Street, at 1157 Highland Lane West in West Fargo. "We are excited to be welcoming 90 volunteers from around the country, to help us complete this amazing project," said Christopher. "On top of that, we will have about 600 local volunteers helping build these homes and changing the lives of three great families; the Faizees, the Mohamuds and the Nhials."
The Affordable Housing Crisis
With this build, the team anticipates shedding light on the crisis directed at the lack of affordable housing. According to Jim Nelson, Habitat's Executive Director, right now, in Cass and Clay County, about 28 percent of households are paying more than 50 percent of their income on housing. "This puts people into situations where they're forced to make sacrifices; you can't get a bank loan, you can't properly feed your family, you can't clothe them adequately, healthcare is limited and you likely won't have a reliable car," said Nelson. "When you can't get to work, it results in unemployment. This is something that Habitat can do to turn around the life of a family. It's not often spoken about in our community, but it affects nearly 13,000 local families."
"It's about much more than a house - it's the health and the opportunity of our kids. Their kids will be twice as likely to go to college as kids that are raised in their current living conditions. More stable living conditions mean better health, better prospects for employment, and eliminating reliance on state and non-profit programs. There are a lot of positive things that can trickle down from having a decent and affordable place to live."
[Three Families, Three Homes]
The Faizee Family
[Massi & Hila Faizee]
Welcoming their daughter Helena, nearly 10 months ago, the Faizee family was ready to begin building their life as a family. Massi Faizee spent six years as an interpreter assisting the United States Army. "As a consequence of my employment, life for my family in Afghanistan was not safe. So, I came over in 2014 as a special immigrant." Due to Visa issues, Hila Faizee was not able to come over until two months later. This move was part of a relocation program for Iraqi Nationals and Afghans who had aided the Americans. With the option to relocate nearly anywhere, Massi Faizee chose Fargo because he had a cousin that had been living here for ten years and spoke kindly of the area, people and cost of living.
The Mohamud Family
[Ayan Santur & Abdikadir Mohamud]
"I have to give my wife the credit for filling out the application and going through the whole process; there were 50 other applicants at that time. When we got approved, it was awesome, really shocking. It was the best feeling I could ever have," said Mohamud. The couple and their three girls had been in a constant struggle to find a decent home that they could afford. They had moved from apartment to apartment with each claiming to be smoke and drug-free. In reality, landlords did not enforce the rules, and smoke would constantly migrate through their walls, doors and vents. Their living environment had become overrun with neighboring parties and a balcony that was left riddled with cigarette butts, garbage and alcohol. This was not how they wanted to raise their family.
"It was our first time applying and I am so thankful for Habitat for Humanity," said Santur. Soon they will be able to bring their three girls (ages one-and-a-half, three and five) to a new home, with a much brighter future.
The Nhial Family
Encouraged to apply by her co-workers, Nhial, a single mother of five, found out that she was approved to receive a larger, bi-level home, just before Christmas. "When I found out we had been accepted, I couldn't believe it, it was exactly what I had needed at that time - I was so happy, it was a dream and I couldn't believe it was happening," said Nhial.
Her struggles had begun with a separation a couple of years back, followed by plaguing health problems. One of her children had been born with a disability and mold in his bloodstream; a few months later, another was diagnosed with Diabetes. Two of her children suffer from severe allergies relating to dogs and cigarette smoke, a factor Nhial couldn't control living in a shared apartment setting. For the safety of her children, she had no choice but to move to a newer, pet and smoke-free three-bedroom. The move nearly eliminated her baby's respiratory issues, but she struggled to afford the newer apartment and much higher rent. Despite life's hurdles, Nhial had accepted her situation and was working on her CNA. Today, she works in assisted living at Eventide.
Building a Better Life
"We want the community's support more than anything, and we hope they embrace what we're doing," said Nelson. "Their living situations are very common with our Habitat families. They often come from unsecured, unsafe, and unclean renting situations where their family is getting exposed to things like smoke, mold or rodents. There are a lot of opportunities in places like this for disease and other health issues. In order to find housing where they won't have those problems, they'll end up paying much more; that's where Habitat can step in and offer a fresh start."
Sweat Equity + Paying it Forward
These homes are not simply handed over to the families. Each family is required to go through an extensive application and interview process that typically spans over many months. After they're accepted, the family is responsible for 250 hours of sweat equity per adult towards their build, and the payment of their monthly mortgage to Habitat.
Although the homes are funded entirely through donations, the families are assigned an affordable mortgage based on their income. "As they pay off their homes, those payments go back to Habitat and will help to fund the building of homes for the next 30 years," said Christopher. Currently, 44 mortgages from past builds get paid to Habitat each month, to help them continue to serve the community.
Blitz + 1 = A Thriving Partnership
With a 20-year partnership and generous donation from Thrivent Financial, the Habitat team is working on plans for a fourth sponsored build. The family has already been selected, but they will need additional funds to reach their current goals before they can move forward. This year, they had 50 families apply and 10 of them met the needed requirements. "It would be an awesome thing to have the ability to build homes for these 10 families."
[How can you help?]
Right now, Habitat's priority is on monetary donations and finding a third financial sponsor for the Dakota Blitz Build. "It takes $150,000 for us to build an affordable home. Our community is just under 250,000 people; if we received a dollar from each person in our community, we'd be able to build closer to two houses," said Nelson.
With ample volunteers for the Blitz Build, opportunities have refocused to the fourth home, in the works for later this year. If you're interested in volunteering for the fourth home, check out their website for registration, times and dates. Habitat's ReStore also welcomes volunteers to work within the store.
Sponsor a Family!
If you're interested in partnering with Habitat's mission, consider becoming a financial sponsor for the third home during the Dakota Blitz Build. The sponsorship is $75,000 and can be formed with a singular business, group of businesses or a local family. While the Offutt Family Foundation and Gate City Bank are both sponsoring a home, there is still one sponsorship needed.
Gate City Bank is sponsoring the home build for the Faizee family, and we talked to Kim Settel, Executive Vice President of Retail Banking & Lending, about their excitement for the build. "We are excited about this unique opportunity to participate in the Habitat for Humanity Blitz Build this summer. Gate City Bank is passionate about providing a better way of life through affordable housing in our communities. The Faizee family has an inspiring story, and we are so proud that they are now part of the Gate City Bank family," said Settel.
Habitat ReStore: Donate or Shop!
With new items arriving daily and prices set at 25 to 75 percent off retail, Habitat's ReStore in Moorhead is a thrifter's dream. Each year, thousands come here to buy or donate excess building materials, appliances, home furnishings, and office furniture. The store also creates an opportunity for community service, with individuals and home recipients donating their time to work in the store and gain valued work experience. On average, ReStore keeps over one million pounds of usable materials out of local landfills and into home building, remodeling, and creative arts projects per year.
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