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Posted on Sun, Jul 18, 2010 : 9:07 a.m.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers breathe new life into foreclosed homes

By Tom Perkins

Erin and Larry Miller say their recent move into a new home in Ypsilanti Township has significantly improved their lives. The three-bedroom ranch is across the street from a park and in a quiet neighborhood they describe as "wonderful."

Erin Miller says it’s a vast improvement from the cramped apartment in which they previously lived with their three children. Crime and drugs were in issue in the complex off Harris Road, but there wasn’t a great opportunity for the family to improve their situation. Then a relative told them about Habitat for Humanity.

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Elaric Currie and other volunteers from Toyota pull siding off a home in Ypsilanti Township under renovation for Habitat for Humanity.

Tom Perkins | For

Through a program offered by the non-profit housing agency for working families, the Millers were able to move into the all-volunteer renovated home in the Nancy Park neighborhood last March.

“It has totally changed our lives in so many ways,” Erin Miller says. “We have peace of mind, we have stability and we’re excited to raise our kids in a better environment.”

On Saturday, through a three-way partnership amongst Habitat for Humanity, Toyota and Johnson Controls, another home in the same neighborhood saw its first steps toward rehabilitation so it can be eventually occupied by a family like the Millers.

Employees from Toyota's Technical Center began pulling down siding and a deck on a foreclosed house at 1923 Hull Avenue. The next order of business will be a new roof while the interior will see new doors, fresh coats of paints, a new kitchen and much more in its makeover.

Employees from Johnson Controls and Toyota spend either their Thursdays or Saturdays working on the home, which Habitat purchased out of foreclosure two months ago. The middle-class Ypsilanti Township neighborhood has been hit hard by foreclosures.

Theresa Finney Dumais, development director for Habitat for Humanity, said the work helps stabilize property values in the neighborhood.

"We have had an incredibly positive response from the neighbors in the neighborhoods we're going into," she said. "They are so grateful we're coming in and taking down boards and mowing the lawn ... it's important and critical that we put a hardworking homeowner in there."

Once the renovations are complete, the group will seek potential homeowners who are able to meet a number of standards and contribute to the effort.

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Larry and Erin Lewis outside their Ypsilanti Township home purchased and renovated by Habitat for Humanity.

Tom Perkins | For

Finney Dumais said a qualifying family of four would earn between roughly $2000 and $4000 per month, which she says is not quite enough to qualify for a traditional mortgage and adequately support children. She said often times families with two working parents who also may be going to school are selected.

"We are the only non-profit in the county that works to provide home ownership opportunities to the 30 to 60-percent median income range," she said. "They are sort of the workforce of our community - that's how I describe our families."

Erin Miller is a stay-at-home mom who says she will soon return to school, while Larry Miller works as a bus driver for an Ann Arbor-based limousine company.

Many times, like the Millers, the families are already living in an apartment where they rent, but it has become to small or is too rough of a neighborhood for their children.

Each adult in the family must be willing to contribute 300 hours of “sweat equity,” meaning they will help work on their home, another home or at the Habitat for Humanity office. They also agree to take classes on home maintenance and financial responsibility.

Habitat holds a zero percent interest mortgage on which the families pay. The family’s are additionally responsible taxes and insurance. Last year Habitat families paid over $200,000 in taxes to Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, Ann Arbor and Superior Township.

Beyond direct contributions, Finney Dumais said the families often stay put in their home and their kids attend local school districts.

"The stability of the families is a benefit for our community in so many ways," she said. "It's not Habitat giving a way a home, it's Habitat empowering families to contribute to the community in a really meaningful way."

Megan Rodgers, a development associate with Habitat, said the non-profit continues to work closely with families after they move into the house.

“It’s a full circle program,” she said. “We would never want to set anyone up for failure and we work very hard to support them. It’s scary to buy your first home. But we don’t just give away the homes; people work hard for them. It’s a great program.”

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Habitat For Humanity volunteers from Toyota work on an Ypsilanti Township home.

Tom Perkins | For

Habitat For Humanity has renovated or built 92 homes in the county with the help of thousands of volunteers like those from Johnson Controls and Toyota. Finney-Dumais said 14 homes are scheduled to be built or renovated this year, and that figure will likely grow annually as the organization does.

The response from Toyota and Johnson Controls was such that there wasn’t enough room for all the employees who wanted to help out to do so. Besides all the manpower, the auto supplier and auto manufacturer are contributing roughly $17,000 each to the effort.

Elaric Currie was one of the volunteers lending a hand. It’s the second home he’s helped renovate for Habitat for Humanity.

“I like doing stuff with my hands and I like that Habitat for Humanity is giving houses to people who need it,” he said. Currie, an electrical engineer by trade, said he didn’t bring any professional skills to the effort, but his wife interjected that he is “Mr. Fix It” at home.

“He moonlights as the handyman around the house,” Ieeia Currie laughed.


Captain Magnificent

Thu, Jul 22, 2010 : 10:44 a.m.

Hey, I have an idea- why can't these habitat for humanity people help fix up Thompson Block? I think that's a win-win for everyone- the work would be free and it would get done quicker. I have a hammer that I'm using to destroy a particularly pesky colony of ants that lives under my dresser, but I think it'd still work for CON-struction... Who's with me?