Giving Matters: Habitat for Humanity Helps Families Homeownership and Strengthens Communities


Being born weighing just over two pounds, with cerebral palsy requiring him to use a wheelchair, has never stopped Ruben Alvarez from leading a great life – joining the debate team, attending the seminar, getting married and raising three daughters. But one goal escaped the native of Silicon Valley and his wife, Renee: home ownership.

Due to early mistakes with the credit, by the time the couple moved to Greenville in 2011, Alvarez said they were emerging from a hole they had dug themselves, unable to cope with the rising cost of rent.

Their daughter, Emily, was born with spina bifida and also uses a wheelchair, so finding rental accommodation to meet their needs has always been a challenge. They wanted to buy a house, but traditional lenders would not accept their low credit scores. Finally, through their involvement with Greenville CAN, an advocacy group for residents with disabilities, they were encouraged to apply to build a house with Habitat for Humanity.

Although the pandemic prevented them from participating in Habitat’s “sweat equity” preparation for homeownership, they took full advantage of the courses offered.

“It’s a misconception that they donate houses,” says Alvarez. “You have to be eligible for the loan. The difference is that they have the flexibility to work with you. By the time you get a loan, you have the tools you need to manage your finances and educate yourself about home care.

The Habitat Greenville Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant foreground

The family contributed to the design process, which was Habitat Greenville’s first project. Plan complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It won the Affiliate Choice Award at Habitat for Humanity International’s inaugural home design competition in 2020, and is now available for use through the Habitat Network.

“We were amazed that we could all be together and not be on top of each other,” said Ruben Alvarez. “This house has been a dream come true for my wife and I.”

“They were very gracious to listen to us and learn from us what was going to work for us. We used to always find ways to say ‘we can make this work’, ”Alvarez says of their rental homes. “Here we don’t have to do that because it was custom built for us.”

Habitat builders went the extra mile, returning even after the family moved in to make the ramp to the front door safer for Alvarez and his daughter to navigate. The spacious bathroom can accommodate a wheelchair, providing independence, and the open floor plan allows easy access inside and outside the kitchen. There’s even plenty of room when the couple’s older daughters are visiting their families.

“We were amazed that we could all be together and not be on top of each other,” Alvarez said. “This house has been a dream come true for my wife and I.” Their mortgage payment is less than half of what they paid in rent, and each payment strengthens their home equity. “This opportunity has been a long time coming, but now we’re in a better financial position because of it,” Alvarez said.

Mark Steenback, director of resources, says affordable housing is scarce in Greenville. Habitat helps new homeowners, also helps preserve old homes, and helps revitalize communities.

“If we don’t allow people to own a home, their financial trajectory never changes, whether it’s helping them improve their credit so they can become homeowners or helping with repairs.” and [weather-proofing] so they can stay at home, ”says Steenback.

With other donors, the Greenville Community Foundation contributed to a $ 2 million fundraising campaign that helped fund 13 new homes in Woodside and 29 in Nicholtown, where Habitat also repaired existing homes and worked with partners to address other issues identified by community members.

“We want the community to sit around the table and decide what they need, and we’ll be there to support them,” Steenback says.

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