Habitat building Ypsilanti homes

Rich Gorski leads a student chapter of Habitat for Humanity that is partnering with the student chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council.

Together, the two groups are working to organize volunteers and raise money to build a Habitat house in Ypsilanti next year. They also hope to find other student organizations to join in the effort.

“It’s the best way to do volunteer work because you get to know and work with a low income family, you see a physical result, and you help the family and the community,” said Gorski, a junior in the construction management program at Eastern Michigan University.

Gorski founded the chapter last year, together with Ben Nelson, who has since transferred out of EMU. His group, now numbering fifteen, plans to spend the rest of this semester and the summer planning, setting a timeline and making contacts.

They will kick off the full effort in the fall, aiming to raise the $37,500 required to renovate a house. Gorski intends to raise money in the form of labor and materials, support from units of the university, participation by other student organization groups, and their own fund raising.

Habitat for Humanity is an international organization whose local affiliate, Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley (HHHV) provides guidance and support to Gorski’s group. Habitat’s basic program has three elements, according to the HHHV website.

First, homeowners make very low down payments, only a few hundred dollars. Second, prospective homeowners contribute hundreds of hours of labor on their, or other, Habitat houses.

Finally, Habitat is the mortgagor, providing the homeowner family an interest-free mortgage. Mortgage payments are then “recycled” to help pay for more houses.

Established in 1989, HHHV has built or renovated and sold single-family homes to 113 families in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. HHHV has not only recently expanded its capacity, but has also avoided the need to foreclose.

According to HHHV Executive Director Sarah Stanton, HHHV is able to work with homeowners to avoid foreclosure because two staff members have the skills to assess financial situations and modify mortgages either formally or informally to help families through hardship situations.

HHHV recently shifted from building new houses from scratch to renovating existing houses, primarily foreclosures, according to a recent press release, which says “That shift has meant a more than 100 percent increase in available housing for new Habitat homeowners.”

Specifically, HHHV will be able to renovate 15 houses a year; previously, they were able to build only four to six a year.

Habitat relies heavily on volunteer labor, which both lowers costs and
enables community members to contribute with sweat as well as money.

Historically, HHHV has been very active in Ypsilanti, building new houses
on Monroe, Madison, Jefferson, Watling and other parts of the Perry School neighborhood. Now, HHHV is renovating houses at 1341 Candlewood, 1219 Gault, and 1211 and 1221 Clarita. In June, work will start on 1937 Midvale. Substantially completed houses are at 809 Charles, 225 Kirk, 570 Woodlawn, and 1256 S. Harris, according to HHHV’s website.

HHHV’s website describes two kinds of partnerships in which groups like the EMU chapter provide money and labor, and HHHV the organizational infrastructure such as building manuals and house plans.

One type of partnership is with non-profit groups such as the EMU students, or individual churches or groups of churches. The other partnerships are with businesses, including Toyota, MAVD, and Johnson Controls. Building a Habitat house can be a great team-building exercise, according to Stanton.

In 2006, HHHV opened a 15,000 square foot home improvement outlet, the Habitat ReStore, with two locations on Aprill Drive and Jackson Avenue west of Ann Arbor.

The ReStore sells new and gently used donated building materials to the public. All proceeds from the ReStore support Habitat’s mission of building and renovating homes in Washtenaw County. Gorski said his group enjoys working at the ReStore.

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