A hard Habitat to break: Nonprofit homebuilder turns 25
Ten years ago, Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs officials were thinking about packing it in.
The Chicago Heights-based organization was building a new home and moving a family into it less than once per year on average, so the organization considered closing the affiliate or investing its resources into a sister affiliate.
Instead, the nonprofit group doubled down on its investments. This year, the group celebrated its 25th anniversary and is more successful than ever, having built 72 houses overall — 34 of those in just the past three years.
David Tracy, Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs executive director, said the group now has a $2 million annual budget and is responsible for overseeing some owner-occupied homes in Park Forest, Lansing, Chicago Heights, Dixmoor, Harvey, Riverdale, Robbins and Hazel Crest. The homeowners pay their mortgage payments to the organization, which acts almost as a bank, except that its loans are interest-free.
Tracy said the local Habitat for Humanity operation has six full-time employees and is responsible not only for building homes but operating a resale shop — ReStore, at 180 W. Joe Orr Road — across the street from the group’s Chicago Heights office. The store generates about $350,000 annually in revenue.
Most of the group’s money, Tracy said, comes from mortgage payments for houses the affiliate previously built. The first one was in Dixmoor. Construction started on it in 1988 and ended in 1990.
“Our belief is that no one should live in substandard housing,” Tracy said. “It’s a fundamental belief. What we want to do is make it possible for low-income families to become responsible homeowners.”
Tracy said his group also helps the communities that are threatened by too many renters, absentee landlords and blight. Many houses in the south suburbs remain vacant in the wake of the national housing market crash, but when Habitat buys a property, it is salvaged as groups primarily composed of volunteers build or rehab the home.
“(Otherwise) the moment you walk out of a home and lock the doors behind you (for good), bad things happen,” Tracy said. “It’s either due to vandalism or natural wear and tear.”
To help the bottom line, Tracy said Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs hosts two fundraisers a year. It held a wine-tasting event in March, and a murder mystery dinner theater event is to be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 11 at Balagio Ristorante, 17501 Dixie Highway, Homewood. Tickets cost $50 and can be bought online by visiting habitatdinner.eventbrite.com.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun, and it will help us keep the light on,” Tracy said.