How Habitat for Humanity is tackling the affordable housing crunch in Harrisonburg and Rockingham
Written by Brad Jenkins

Skyrocketing prices for homes and rent has caused a housing crunch across the country in Harrisonburg, where city leaders are looking for ways to alleviate the need.

Habitat for Humanity’s central Valley chapter is working on the problem by “putting God’s love into action.”

We asked Executive Director David Wenger how Habitat works to provide affordable housing to Harrisonburg and Rockingham County residents and why it matters.

What role does having affordable housing play in the flourishing of the community and in people’s lives? Why is this work so important to people?

The short answer is that we provide strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter. We believe that everyone deserves a decent place to live and most are willing to work diligently to obtain it.

The longer answer is that one of the cornerstones of financial stability in our country continues to be the opportunity for home ownership. Who should have the opportunity is an ongoing question. The movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) reflected this question when George Bailey was asking why a common man, who works and spends money in the community, should have to wait for this opportunity.

We struggle with the same question today. Central Valley Habitat is in the solutions business because families who partner with us have a chance at social, emotional and financial stability. They are provided the pride of feeling self-reliant as they are no longer dependent on charitable programs to survive. Families working with Habitat are given the education to be a homeowner and to be financial planners. They work shoulder to shoulder with us for the opportunity to purchase a home. These families could not obtain a loan or a home through traditional means, but the Habitat program makes it work.

As a result, there are more community members paying taxes and spending money. This is good for the economy. We estimate that our homes account for over $75,000 of real estate taxes each year. Housing is not a solution that only affects the family in the home; it affects all members of our society. That effect can be positive if we are willing to give opportunities.

How many local projects have you been responsible for?

We are currently completing a duplex to place partner families number 76 and 77. We are preparing to build 11 homes on Suter Street in Harrisonburg which will allow us to partner additional families over the next two years. Our newly implemented Critical Home Repair program has allowed us to work with four more families. We believe that this program will allow us to work with 10 to 15 families per year in addition to the four to six we work with through the home-build program. In addition to our local programs, we have contributed to the placement of over 103 families internationally.

How do you see transformation happening because of what you do? Any particular stories or situations stand out?

We know that each family has a story. Just a few:

  • The lady who was able to work for a home as a young adult and not only raised her children but was able to care for her daughter when she became disabled due to a car accident. One of her grandsons, who grew up in the home, went on to play division I basketball at colleges in the Commonwealth.
  • The family who had to flee for their lives from Iran when the Shah was over through. They bounced around US territories and the country to end up in Harrisonburg in a home where they could have security and sustainability.
  • The mother who says she was placed by God because she drove down a back street in Bridgewater and stopped at the CV Habitat office on a chance that she could provide a better life for her children.
  • The families who crossed the border into Ethiopia due to oppression in Eretria. They came to the US after 5 years in a concentration camp.
  • The father who broke down in tears at the home dedication because he had worked and wait to provide his three children a home.

Shall I continue? I can!

We hear a lot about the local affordable housing issues. How is Habitat part of addressing that?

The board of directors for CV Habitat has stepped up to the challenge of affordable housing in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. We have almost tripled the number of homes we are building. We have added a Critical Home Repair program. We are working to build capacity to do more as we opened a ReStore in Harrisonburg to support our programs. We are partnering with a private developer to build homes on Suter Street. We have been in communication with Harrisonburg and Rockingham County government officials to let them know we want to partner to meet housing needs

What are some of Habitat’s biggest challenges and needs right now?

The decreasing availability of property is increasingly problematic. The ability to provide affordable homes starts with affordable property as lots become scarce, the demand for the lots increases and the price increases, as well. Family income is not keeping pace. As a result, we are looking for alternatives to reduce cost.

We would like to pray for your work. What should we be praying for for Habitat and housing locally in general?

First and foremost, pray for anyone who does not have a decent, safe and affordable place to live. Pray that we will all work together to provide opportunities for individuals to be able to work for and obtain affordable housing. Pray for the wisdom, strength and energy needed to met the challenges presented by housing.