HABITAT FOR HUMANITY
Frequently asked questions
What is Habitat for Humanity?
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit housing organization working locally and in nearly 1,400 communities across the United States and in approximately 70 countries around the world. Habitat’s vision is of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Habitat works toward this vision by building and improving homes in partnership with individuals and families in need of a decent and affordable place to live.
Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.
A world where everyone has a decent place to live.
- Demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ.
- Focus on shelter.
- Advocate for affordable housing.
- Promote dignity and hope.
- Support sustainable and transformative development.
Who we are
Habitat for Humanity partners with people in your community, and all over the world, to help them build or improve a place they can call home. Habitat homeowners help build their own homes alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage. With your support, Habitat homeowners achieve the strength, stability, and independence they need to build a better life for themselves and for their families. Through our 2020 Strategic Plan, Habitat for Humanity will serve more people than ever before through decent and affordable housing.
Habitat for Humanity and its affiliate organizations will not proselytize. Nor will Habitat work with entities or individuals who insist on proselytizing as part of their work with Habitat. This means that Habitat will not offer assistance on the expressed or implied condition that people must adhere to or convert to a particular faith or listen and respond to messaging designed to induce conversion to a particular faith.
How does Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program work?
Families and individuals in need of decent, affordable housing apply for homeownership with their local Habitat for Humanity.
Each local Habitat’s family selection committee selects homeowners based on three criteria:
- The applicant’s level of need.
- Their willingness to partner with Habitat.
- Their ability to repay a mortgage through an affordable payment plan.
Sweat equity is a term used often when talking about the creation or building process. It’s about doing the work — the hard work — to bring an idea to life.
That work becomes an investment in the project. It can be an investment as real as money or land.
According to Investopedia, an online financial resource, sweat equity is the “contribution to a project or enterprise in the form of effort and toil. Sweat equity is the ownership interest or increase in value, that is created as a direct result of hard work by the owner(s). It is the preferred mode of building equity for cash-strapped entrepreneurs in their start-up ventures, since they may be unable to contribute much financial capital to their enterprise.”
In his 2009 book If I Had A Hammer: Building Homes and Hope with Habitat for Humanity, David Rubel wrote, “Habitat affiliates require only a small down payment because few low-income families can afford more than that. Instead, partner families are required to contribute sweat equity. The phrase sweat equity refers to an ownership interest created by the sweat of a person’s labor.”
At Habitat for Humanity, sweat equity is a new homeowner investing in their home or one for another family. It’s not a form of payment, but an opportunity to work alongside volunteers who give their time to bring to life a family’s dream of owning a home.
Habitat for Humanity follows a nondiscriminatory policy of family selection. Neither race nor religion is a factor in choosing Habitat’s homeowners.
Are Habitat for Humanity houses free?
No. Families who are in need of decent, affordable housing apply locally to Habitat for Humanity for homeownership. Their ability to repay an affordable mortgage or small loan, as well as their level of housing need and willingness to partner with Habitat, are among the selection criteria for becoming a Habitat homeowner.
Future homeowners receive financial education and complete several hundred hours of sweat equity working alongside volunteers. Sweat equity can take the form of building their own and other Habitat homes, providing retail assistance at a local Habitat ReStore, or performing important tasks at their local Habitat office.
Learn more about what it takes to become a Habitat homeowner.
To carry out our vision, we partner with individuals and families from application through construction to when the keys are handed over.
By working with us from beginning to end, we can help prospective individuals prepare for the various responsibilities of homeownership, including learning about personal finances, mortgages, maintenance and upkeep of homes, and much more.
Habitat’s path to homeownership is an important and in-depth process, requiring hard work, time and dedication. But this helps to ensure the long-term success of Habitat homeowners.
How to qualify for a Habitat home
Habitat homeowners must be active participants in building a better home and future for themselves and their families. Every Habitat home is an investment. For us, it is one answer to a critical need, and we believe that stronger homes will create stronger communities.
- Prospective Habitat homeowners must demonstrate a need for safe, affordable housing. Need will vary from community to community.
- Once selected, Habitat homeowners must partner with us throughout the process. This partnership includes performing “sweat equity,” or helping to build their own home or the homes of others in our homeownership program. Sweat equity can also include taking homeownership classes or performing volunteer work in a Habitat ReStore.
- Homeowners must also be able and willing to pay an affordable mortgage. Mortgage payments are cycled back into the community to help build additional Habitat houses.
Can anyone apply to be a Habitat homeowner?
Yes. Habitat follows a nondiscriminatory policy of homebuyer selection. Neither race nor religion is a factor.
How do you apply for a Habitat house? How long is the Habitat for Humanity home application process?
Habitat’s homeowner selection is managed at the local level, through our hundreds of local Habitat for Humanity locations all over the U.S. and around the world. For more information and to learn more about the process or how you can apply, please contact your local Habitat, or call 1-800-HABITAT (1-800-422-4828).
Did former U.S. President Jimmy Carter start Habitat for Humanity?
While President and Mrs. Carter are Habitat’s most famous volunteers and have worked tirelessly since 1984 to help families build houses and to raise awareness of the need for affordable housing, Habitat was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in 1976.
The idea that became Habitat for Humanity first grew from the fertile soil of Koinonia Farm, a community farm outside of Americus, Georgia, founded by farmer and biblical scholar Clarence Jordan. There in the early ’70s, Jordan and the Fullers developed “partnership housing.” The idea centered on those in need of adequate shelter working side by side with volunteers to build decent, affordable houses at no profit. To build more homes, new homeowners’ house payments would be combined with no-interest loans provided by supporters and money earned by fundraising.
In 1973, the Fullers took the concept to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and launched a successful house-building program. After three years, they returned to the United States and founded Habitat for Humanity International.
Habitat for Humanity co-founder
“I see life as both a gift and a responsibility. My responsibility is to use what God has given me to help his people in need.”
Co-founder of Habitat for Humanity International
Millard Fuller co-founded Habitat for Humanity International in 1976 along with his wife, Linda Fuller, and served in executive roles until 2005.
In 1996, former U.S. President Bill Clinton awarded Fuller the Presidential Medal of Freedom—the nation’s highest civilian honor—calling Habitat “…the most successful continuous community service project in the history of the United States.”
Mr. Fuller died in February 2009 at the age of 74.
A life changed
From humble beginnings in Alabama, Millard Fuller rose to become a young, self-made millionaire at age 29. But as his business prospered, his health, integrity, and marriage suffered. These crises prompted Fuller to re-evaluate his values and direction. His soul-searching led to reconciliation with his wife and to a renewal of his Christian commitment.
The Fullers then took a drastic step: they decided to sell all of their possessions, give the money to the poor and begin searching for a new focus for their lives. This search led them to Koinonia Farm, a Christian community located near Americus, Georgia, where people were looking for practical ways to apply Christ’s teachings.
Testing the model
In 1973, Fuller moved to Africa with his wife and four children to test their housing model. The housing project, which they began in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was a success in that developing nation.
Upon his return to the United States in 1976, he met with a group of close associates and created a new independent organization: Habitat for Humanity International. From 1976 to 2005, the Fullers devoted their energies to the expansion of Habitat for Humanity throughout the world.
Habitat for Humanity co-founder
“To families in seemingly impossible situations, Habitat for Humanity becomes a friend and partner. And, by their own labor and with God’s grace, they become owners of a decent home.”
― Linda Fuller
Co-founder of Habitat for Humanity International
Linda Fuller and her husband Millard Fuller launched Habitat for Humanity International in 1976. Prior to this, she pioneered a low-cost housing program in rural southwest Georgia from 1968-1972 and participated in three years of similar work in Africa.
While Linda was earning her degree in elementary education at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, Millard began a marketing firm with a fellow attorney. The business prospered and soon the Fullers were millionaires. But with success and wealth, their marriage suffered. This crisis prompted the Fullers to re-evaluate their lives.
Habitat for Humanity International is formed
With Koinonia founder Clarence Jordan and a few others, the Fullers initiated several partnership enterprises, including a housing ministry. Soon, the Fullers began testing a new no-profit, no-interest housing model making homes affordable to families with low incomes. In 1973 they tested this model in Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and were convinced the model could be expanded and applied all over the world.
Upon their return home in 1976, the Fullers met with members of the Koinonia community and several people from across the United States and decided to create a new, independent organization: Habitat for Humanity International. From 1976 to 2005, the Fullers devoted their energies to the expansion of Habitat throughout the world.
Women in construction
A group of women at Habitat for Humanity’s international headquarters launched Women Accepting the Challenge of Housing. Eight years and 200 houses later, Linda spearheaded the formation of the Women Build program at Habitat.
Since 1991, Women Build volunteers from all walks of life have come together to build stronger, safer communities.
Though our neighborhoods are comprised largely of women and children, they are also the population’s most likely to be affected by poor living conditions. Our Women Build events provide the opportunity for women to take a proactive step in serving their communities.
Women Build opportunities are available across the U.S., and any woman who wants to learn how to build and construct a home is invited to join us. No experience is necessary. Volunteers work under the guidance of construction professionals, and also alongside other volunteers and future Habitat homeowners. Whether you are learning new skills or simply adding a few to your tool belt, this is a rewarding experience for all involved and improves the community that you share.
Women Build is also a terrific way to involve your friends and family of all ages in crucial work with a lasting impact. Women helping women sends a positive and powerful message. You can also come alone, and make new friends. The atmosphere is collaborative and friendly.
Learn more about Habitat’s history.
Does Habitat for Humanity only build houses?
Habitat is committed to ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has a decent place to live. To that end, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We help families build strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter in a variety of ways.
- Habitat does build new homes. We also work alongside families to rehabilitate and preserve existing homes needing repairs, and we partner with older homeowners to make the changes they need in order to grow old safely in their homes.
- Our neighborhood revitalization work in the U.S. seeks to transform communities into vibrant, safe places to live for current and future residents. Habitat works locally in coalition with neighborhood residents and partners to improve quality of life through an integrated, collaborative approach to community development.
- Most of the world’s people acquire shelter incrementally, building homes step by step as their families grow and as their limited finances allow. The great majority of families in countries where Habitat for Humanity works have no access to formal-sector housing options, such as traditional mortgage products or developer-built housing. Our housing microfinance efforts help fill that enormous gap by empowering people to build better, more durable homes through a combination of capital and housing support services.
What is microfinance?
Microfinance loans have relatively short repayment periods, small loan amounts and little or no collateral required. They may be provided by a bank, non-bank financial institution, cooperative, non-government organization or other legal-regulated entities.
What is housing microfinance?
Like traditional microfinance, housing microfinance has the ability to drastically improve the living conditions of low-income families around the world. Housing microfinance consists of small, non-mortgage backed loans starting at just a few hundred dollars that can be offered to low-income populations in support of incremental building practices.
What is the incremental building?
Building a home in progressive — or incremental — stages is a common practice in much of the developing world, constituting 50 to 90 percent of residential construction. By slowly saving money under mattresses or in jars, people collect building materials to gradually expand and improve their homes. Improvements can mean adding a concrete or tile floor, shoring up the roof, improving the kitchen or supplementing living space when welcoming a new child to the family.
How can housing microfinance make a difference?
Efforts to provide new housing in the developing world are limited, and existing bankers and lenders rarely serve lower-income people. Housing microfinance, bundled with housing support services and technical assistance, has the ability to increase access to safer, healthier and less impoverished living conditions and can help speed up the construction of adequate housing.
Habitat’s role in microfinance institution partnerships
Habitat does not issue microfinance loans itself but collaborates with partner microfinance institutions through its MicroBuild Fund.
Other services that Habitat is involved in include:
- Program design assistance: Assists in establishing a housing loan product.
- Technical assistance: Assists in construction services. Helps link families or clients financed by a microfinance institute to government land, infrastructure or subsidy provided by a Habitat national program.
- Direct investing: Transfers grants for research or loans for product rollout to microfinance institutes.
- Investment brokering: Involved in negotiations that encourage public and private investment in microfinance institutes to expand housing finance.
- Credit service outsourcing: Extends loans that are managed by microfinance institutes to serve Habitat partner families, clients and beneficiaries.
Terwilliger Center for Innovation
Through the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, we are able to support local firms and expand innovative and client-responsive services, products and financing so that households can improve their shelter more effectively and efficiently.
Habitat for Humanity formally launched the Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter at the historic Habitat III, which took place in Quito, Ecuador, in October 2016. The Terwilliger Center is one of Habitat’s key commitments toward the implementation of the United Nation’s member states’ New Urban Agenda.
The Terwilliger Center consolidates more than a decade of experience in developing market-based solutions for housing and the body of work resulting from these early efforts, formerly referred to as the Center for Innovation in Shelter and Finance. Through the Terwilliger Center, Habitat will accelerate and facilitate better functioning inclusive housing markets to enable more than 8 million people to access to improved shelter solutions by 2020.
Our guiding principles
Strive for scale to reach many families
Market-based approaches can achieve large-scale impact because of the ability to self-replicate successful business models. The ambition to achieve large-scale change does not mean interventions themselves have to be large in terms of resources. Small test projects to determine if a product can be sustained are perfectly valid.
Lasting solutions come from strengthening the abilities of every company and market actor we work with, ensuring the solution is aligned with market incentives. In other words, the business delivering the product is able to recover its costs and generate some profit on top, and the product is affordable.
Focus on the private sector
We take a positive attitude toward the role of the private sector in affordable housing, recognizing that the cement companies, contractors, equipment suppliers, banks and other actors play an important role and that profits can drive the incentive to expand services.
Avoid market distortion
We favor the use of indirect subsidies that promote lasting solutions that will continue to benefit households after our intervention. Direct subsidies that cannot be depended upon or that the market might orient itself around are avoided because of the danger of distorting the housing market.
Act as a facilitator
Our role is to be catalytic, stimulating changes in a market system without becoming part of it. Our team provides advisory services and technical assistance to market actors and companies to support their abilities to help low-income households obtain affordable housing while remaining external to the housing market.
Directing investment capital to the housing sector is an important part of ensuring that there is an adequate supply of housing products and related services in the market.
We address both the supply and demand sides of the market when we advise firms who are considering introducing housing products or services.
We are committed to furthering the understanding around key trends in housing finance for low-income populations.
- Habitat actively mobilizes volunteers to promote decent, affordable housing and advocates for additional access to safe and affordable housing. Our advocacy work has the proven ability to change laws and shape the policies and systems that affect that access.
- Habitat ReStores are an important arm of our work. These home improvement stores sell to the public new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories, building materials and other items. Individuals and companies support ReStores by donating or buying items. Proceeds go to support Habitat’s mission in the local community and around the world.
Does Habitat for Humanity only build locally?
Habitat builds in local communities across all 50 states in the U.S. We also work in more than 70 countries worldwide. Learn more about all of the places where we work.
Can only Christians apply for Habitat homes? Can only Christians volunteer and work with Habitat?
Habitat is a global nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing organization. While our mission is inspired by Christian teachings, all who desire to be a part of our work are welcome — without regard to religious preference or background.
Do I have to have construction skills to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity?
We welcome people with any skill level to volunteer with us on the build site, even beginners. On-site construction leaders train volunteers in all aspects of building. You do have to be at least 16 years old to work on a Habitat construction site.
You can also volunteer and participate in a variety of other ways, from becoming an advocate to helping out in one of our ReStores. Check out all of the ways you can support Habitat’s work.
Does Habitat need donations?
Yes, Habitat for Humanity needs donations to advance our work, and we appreciate your financial support.
Thanks to the support of people like you we are able to help millions of people each year as they create strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter. It will take all of us doing whatever we can to create a world where everyone has a decent place to live.