Federal dollars spur Habitat for Humanity
BY CASEY TONER email@example.com February 24, 2013 7:48PM
David Tracy, Executive Director Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs, stands in front of one of the homes on 16th Street his organization helped refurbish and is now occupied in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Friday, February 8, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 26, 2013 6:02AM
While it certainly hasn’t been good to most people, the American housing crisis has been great to south suburban Habitat for Humanity.
The 25-year-old Chicago Heights-based organization has taken advantage of government money designed to bolster the country’s housing stock to buy and rehab properties at a staggering rate, according to David Tracy, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity Chicago South Suburbs.
Tracy said the group has added 28 properties in Park Forest and Lansing since 2009. Before that, the south suburban chapter had 42 houses.
“It allowed us to expand,” Tracy said. “The most important thing is we now have 25 families who are homeowners. We’ve been able to employ a lot of people and we’ve put money back into the local economy.”
The organization celebrated the dedication of its latest home on Feb. 9 when it welcomed Rasheda Lane and her three children into their new home in the 200 block of Earl Street in Park Forest.
The home had been in foreclosure and its basement was full of mold when Habitat purchased it.
Tracy estimated about $90,000 worth of work was invested in the home including new paint and energy-efficient appliances, as well as electrical and plumbing upgrades.
Tracy said the home was purchased and renovated, along with the 27 other homes, thanks to the more than $3 million awarded to Habitat for Humanity through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The funds also were used to weatherize 61 homes.
Habitat for Humanity also owns two houses in the east side of Chicago Heights that are adjacent to new homes the city is trying to sell.
The city built 15 homes using $3 million in federal funds. Of those, only two have been sold.
Tracy said that although Habitats’s Chicago Heights homes were built before the housing crash without federal money, they sold quickly because Habitat for Humanity holds the loans.
“In our case, it worked,” Tracy said. “The fact they’re dealing with market rate loans is a problem and that is the reason they’re sitting vacant.”
Tracy said Habitat for Humanity has been successful in getting people into homes is because the organization is the bank and controls the loans. That means no interest rates or adjustable, ballooning mortgages.
“The only balloons we have are the balloons at our dedication,” Tracy said.
He said the city would have more luck if officials had spent the money restoring and selling foreclosed homes in the first place instead of building new houses.
The city now has hired two companies with federal money to restore approximately 80 foreclosed homes and get them back on the market.
With the federal money winding down, Tracy said his organization plans to apply for money from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Madigan was given $70 million as part of the federal government’s $25 billion settlement with some of the nation’s largest banks regarding fraudulent foreclosure and mortgage practices.