Habitat for Humanity: Helping hands

Brandon Twp.- Angela Ewald’s house on Michael Street is a fixer-upper.
Under sunny skies on a recent Thursday morning, men are shoveling shingles from the roof. Inside, the house is a shell, stripped down to the studs already in many rooms, and Richard Ewald, Angela’s father, is busy demolishing moldy drywall.
The house is in a pretty sad state, but Ewald couldn’t be happier as she tosses shingles into a dumpster, smiling all the while.
‘It’s a big change, a good change,? she beams. ‘I’m so excited. Even with it in repair, I see my future. I see it being completed and me living here.?
Ewald and her son, Justin, 3, will move into the home sometime next spring, thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County and the volunteer efforts of many, as well as her own hard work and determination.
visit www.habitatoakland.org. Francis has also established a Facebook page, ‘Spaghetti Fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County.?
‘I don’t want anything just given to me,? said the 23-year-old clerical worker who currently resides in a Pontiac apartment with her son as well as some roommates.
The house will be hers and so will the mortgage. Additionally, she will have completed 300 hours of work in regards to Habitat before she ever makes her first payment on the house.
‘By far the biggest misconception nationwide is that we give away homes to family that are lucky enough to qualify,? said Stephanie Osterland, director of family and community relationships for Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County. ‘That couldn’t be further from the truth. Applicants have to have a consistent source of income, fairly decent credit and have to be willing to put in work themselves. We require they put in 300 sweat equity hours, volunteer time to working on the project? working side-by-side with construction volunteers or doing fundraisers and taking classes.?
On the Thursday that Ewald was slinging shingles, her roof was being redone by a volunteer crew of cost engineers from Nissan. The next week, she was back at work at the house, accompanied by volunteers from Bank of America.
Chris Gordon, site supervisor with Habitat For Humanity Oakland County, was working alongside the volunteers and providing direction at the Michael Street house, one of nine homes currently being rehabbed or built by Habitat in the county.
‘This one is special because it’s close to home,? said Gordon, who lives in Davisburg. ‘It’s also a nice big lot. I’m used to small lots in the city, most in Pontiac, Madison Heights, Hazel Park.?
Habitat for Humanity was founded as a non-profit organization in 1976 on the premise that everyone should have a decent, safe, affordable place to live. This is the organization’s 20th year operating in Oakland County and besides placing families in safe and affordable housing, Habitat also helps those who already have homes get the repairs they need, or even new furnaces or water heaters.
In the past year, HFHOC helped 16 families in the home ownership and home repair program and also assisted 16 families with credit counseling. The organization is also planning to help 32 families in 2016, including the Francis family.
Missy Francis, 51, the mother of five children who range in age from 25 to 14, wondered if she would ever be able to be a homeowner again after her marriage ended in 2012. Prior to the divorce, her husband lost his business and her credit was destroyed after bankruptcy and foreclosure on their Hadley Township home. For the past two years, she has worked full-time as a legal secretary in a law office in Troy.
‘Things are getting more stable, but I was really depressed that I was never going to be able to own a home again or rehabilitate my credit,? said Francis. ‘At 51, starting all over again with nothing is scary? I’ve only got 14 more years to work and I thought it was going to take me seven of those years to buy a house because my credit is poor.?
She currently resides in a 2-bedroom apartment in Ortonville with her two youngest sons? Jack and Mark. But just over a year ago, daughter Marigrace and son Steve were also living in the apartment (son Bill has other accommodations). Francis came home one hot day feeling particularly desperate.
‘It was so crowded and so hard to find privacy and the sofa was Steve’s bedroom and there’s no real air conditioning and we’re on the second floor and I said, ‘I’m never getting out of here, there has to be help for me.??
In that moment, she sat down at her computer and googled, ‘help for poor people buying a home.? Habitat for Humanity came up and she began researching, as well as rebuilding her former mistaken concept of the organization as one that only helped build homes in disaster-stricken locales. That night, she filled out the online application for Habitat, answering questions about her current living situation, challenges she faces, her current employment and income.
She then forgot about the application as months passed, but this past March, the phone rang. A representative from Habitat wanted to know if Francis wanted to continue with the application process.
‘Are you kidding?? she asked. ‘Yeah!?
Francis was at work. When she hung up the phone, she began jumping up and down and high-fived her boss. The next step was another detailed application, letters of recommendation from her employer and landlord, and a presentation of her case to the Habitat Board. At the end of May, another phone call, and then a visit by Habitat representatives to her apartment. The case was presented to a board of directors in July and then in midAugust, Francis was formally approved.
She feels extraordinarily lucky to have been chosen. Last year, more than 900 people in Oakland County applied to Habitat for Humanity. The organization accepts applications all year long and seeks candidates who are motivated, with a consistent source of income that meets the guidelines. It can’t be too low, or Habitat won’t be able to obtain them a mortgage. It can’t be too high or Habitat’s help would be unneeded. A perfect credit score isn’t necessary, but it needs to be somewhat acceptable.
‘The mortgage payments must be affordable, it won’t be any more than 30 percent of their gross monthly income? that’s probably on the high end, we try to keep it in a range,? said Osterland. ‘We also work to help them secure a down payment to reduce the mortgage, but they are making a monthly payment, and paying taxes and insurance like everyone else. We help them secure a mortgage when maybe they couldn’t do that on their own. A 20 percent down payment is a huge barrier. We try to help them by securing that and make sure they go through financial and credit education and are well-acquainted with budgeting so they will be successful in the long run.?
Habitat for Humanity often obtains affordable houses to rehabilitate through foreclosures and donations. Cash and supply donations and volunteer labor make the organization’s goal of providing safe, affordable homes possible.
‘The homes are completely renovated, up-to-code, and we have very high standards when it comes to energy efficiency,? said Osterland. ‘They are going to get a high quality product? no granite countertops, but a beautiful home with basic amenities that anyone would ask for.?
Angela Ewald began checking into Habitat a few years ago, but her income didn’t meet their guidelines until a year ago. She started taking the required classes after being accepted, including ones on money management and fire safety. She has enjoyed the classes and she is excited about the work that has been done on the home that was selected for her about four months ago. So far, the roofs on the house and detached garage have been replaced, as well as all the insulation and siding. The interior of the house will soon get all new cabinets and flooring. The electrical and plumbing will also be brought up to code.
‘It takes a lot of teamwork, you get with your team and figure out who is good at this and not good at this and the person who knows how to swing a hammer does it and the one who doesn’t pulls old nails out or gets supplies,? she said. ‘I pay attention, because if I ever need to replace something, I will know how it was done.?
Ewald is most excited for her son. She is happy he will be attending school in Brandon, ‘a good district? and having him know that this place on Michael Street ‘will be his forever home.?
‘I’m building a scrapbook for my son so he can see it,? she said. ‘I really can’t wait to see the look on his face… My family is planning a housewarming party for me. I can’t thank everyone enough. I am so thankful. There is nothing more I can say than thank you and I couldn’t do it without them.?
Missy Francis hasn’t yet been assigned a house, but should be soon. It might be anywhere in the county. She would like somewhere in or near Ortonville, but will happily accept a home whereever one is available because while her wish list is long, the number one thing on it is home ownership.
‘I don’t care if it has a basement or a garage, I just want a place to call home,? she said. ‘I have a kitty and I’m not sure how she would feel about a dog, but my son definitely wants one. I will have a yard again. I haven’t had a dishwasher in I don’t know how long. I’ll be happy to have a washer and dryer and not have to get quarters, not have to lug groceries and laundry up and down stairs. I am excited about it all.?
Because Habitat candidates must commit to 300 hours of sweat equity and Francis said she is not very skilled at construction, she is instead hosting a fundraiser event for Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County. The fundraiser is a spaghetti dinner with seatings at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Edna Burton Senior Center, 345 Ball St., Ortonville. Cost is $10 per person for $30 for the whole family. All proceeds go directly to Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County. For more information, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/habitatoaklandcounty/fundraiser/melissafrancis1 or call 248-894-9660.