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Habitat builds on dreams

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By Melissa Blankenship

The dream of homeownership is an elusive one for many, but through the efforts of Habitat for Humanity it’s a dream that’s come true for one family in Oldham County this year.

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Kassu, who is originally from Ethiopia, and Mohammad, who is from Iraq (last names withheld), met in a refugee camp in Lebanon.  They have two children: Maryam, age five; and Joseph, age two. Kassu works for White Castle distributions, while Mohammad operates his own auto-repair business. They heard about the homeowner program offered by Habitat for Humanity through friends who had purchased a Habitat home.

“Homeownership is important to us because rent is high, and living in a two-bedroom apartment with two kids is hard,” Kassu said. “(Now) we’ll have enough space and a place for my children to play. My family is my top priority.”

Kassu and her family will soon move into their new home on Lee Street. Earlier this month, Habitat celebrated “Raise the Roof” weekend at the construction site – a time when walls are erected and the roof placed on the foundation. The home was blessed and interior work began. It’s something Habitat organizers would like to see happen more often in Oldham County.

“People don’t realize that we do build in Oldham County,” Keisha Swan, development coordinator for Habitat for Humanity, said. “We sometimes don’t have many families in Oldham County apply because they think we’re automatically going to move them to Louisville, which is not the case. We do build in Oldham County and we’re looking for people who want to be in Oldham County.”

In 2008, Oldham County Habitat for Humanity merged with Habitat for Humanity of Metro Louisville in an effort to build outside of their traditional neighborhoods in the metro area.  Since the merger, the affiliate has constructed three homes for Oldham County families and will add åa fourth this year. They hope to build two more next year.  Habitat would like to construct even more homes in the county, but they need families to apply, affordable land to purchase and volunteers to donate their time, Swan said.

“The biggest thing people in Oldham County need to know is that there is a definite need for safe, affordable housing for lower income families in our county,” John Greenup, committee chairperson for Oldham County Habitat for Humanity, said. “People who live outside of Oldham County look at us and have the perception that we’re a very wealthy county and the need is not there for mission-like orgniazations like Habitat, but the opposite is true.”

Greenup, an attorney who’s worked with the charity for 15 years, said Habitat is in constant need of affordable land to build on and families to apply for the homeownership program, which is no walk in the park.

“For every 100 that apply, 7 to 10 qualify and get approved. It’s about the same chance of getting into Harvard,” Greenup said. “Families buy the houses and they have to finance it. It’s not a giveaway program and they commit to a minimum of 400 hours of sweat equity on their own home or another Habitat property.”

Many families don’t qualify because of their debt situation. Habitat won’t approve the interest-free mortgage, which averages $500 per month, if the debt burden would be too much for a family to bear. Interested families can review the qualifications for the homeownership program and fill out Habitat’s pre-application on the website (www.hfhlouisville.org) or they can call the application hotline (502-805 1401)and request that an application be mailed to them.

Once Kassu, Mohammed, Maryam and Joseph move and settle into their new home in late January or early February, Kassu looks forward to paying the mortgage, maintaining her home and giving back to others.

“Through this program, I’ve learned that I want to continue volunteering at the ReStore,” she said. “God knows what’s in the future, but I want to continue to support Habitat. Having our own home will allow us to focus on providing our children a good education. It’s a blessing to get a Habitat house.”

And Greenup said building homes and renovating existing homes not only helps the families involved, but contributes to the community as well.

“It adds to the physical enhancement of the community as a whole. The scope of Habitat’s mission has grown from homebuilding to home rehab to neighborhood enhacement,” Greenup said. “We want to do more to help neighborhoods and the community as a whole.”

Greenup added that Habitat for Humanity Oldham County provides volunteer opportunities right here in the county, where people can concentrate their efforts locally, with no need to drive to Louisville to serve Habitat. Habitat also appreciates donations of building supplies and again, affordable land.

“There are tax advantages to selling property to Habitat. You can realize tax advantages for donating or selling at or below market value while you are providing property and contributing to building your community,” Greenup said. “You can expand the tax base in a more significant way than if the land just were to sit empty. A nice home on a nice piece of land increases the value of the property and the tax base.”

But what Greenup really appreciates about Habitat is that the organization fulfills what for some is a lifelong dream of owning their own home.

“I’ve been very fortuante in a lot of ways where my life has gone and where I’ve landed. I enjoy living in Oldham County and looking around I see other people that because of circumstances, haven’t had the same opportunity to achieve what I’ve achieved and not necessarily through any fault of their own,” Greenup said. “It’s not a handout, but a hand up. We can help them realize the dream of home ownership. That’s such an important step in the life of any family and it’s very fulfilling to paly a small role in that.”

For more information about Habitat for Humanity Oldham County, visit www.louisvillehabitat.orgor call (502) 637-6265.

Email us about this article at publisher@oldhamera.com.