Some Myths and Truths about Habitat for Humanity

Myth: Habitat for Humanity gives houses away to poor people.

Truth: Houses are not given to anyone.  Habitat for Humanity offers a homeownership opportunity to families unable to obtain conventional house financing—generally, those whose income is 30 to 80 percent of the area’s median income.  Because of Habitat’s no-profit, no-interest loans and because houses are built principally by volunteers, mortgage payments can be kept affordable.  Prospective Habitat homeowner families make a down payment and contribute 300 to 500 hours of “sweat equity” on the construction of their home or someone else’s home.

Myth: Habitat builds houses only for minorities.

Truth: Habitat doesn’t build houses for anyone.  We build houses with those in need—regardless of race, religion or any other difference.  The three criteria everyone must meet are: need; ability to repay the no-interest, no-profit mortgage; and a willingness to partner with Habitat.

Myth: Habitat houses reduce property values in a neighborhood.

Truth: Many studies of low-cost housing in the United States and Canada show that affordable housing has no adverse effect on other neighborhood property values. In fact, Habitat believes its approach to affordable housing can improve neighborhoods by strengthening community spirit; increasing the tax base; and building better citizens through the cooperative efforts involved in Habitat construction.

Myth: Habitat homeowners are on welfare.

Truth: While some Habitat homeowners receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), most homeowners are working people. Typically their annual income is less than half the local median income in their community.

Myth: You have to be Christian to become a Habitat homeowner.

Truth: Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization. However, homeowners are chosen without regard to race, religion or ethnic group, in keeping with U.S. law and with Habitat’s abiding belief that God’s love extends to everyone—regardless of race, creed, or nationality. Habitat also welcomes volunteers from all faiths—or no faith—who actively embrace Habitat’s goal of eliminating poverty housing from the world.

Myth:  Habitat houses allow people to move from poverty to plush new houses.

Truth: Any new house is going to be a dramatic change for a family that has been living in substandard housing.  But Habitat houses are not extravagant by any standard.  Habitat’s philosophy is to build simple, decent homes.  Under Habitat’s house design criteria, a typical 3-bedroom home is around 1100 square feet.

Myth: Habitat for Humanity is an arm of the government.

Truth: Habitat is an ecumenical Christian housing organization. It is neither an arm of the government nor an arm of any church or denomination. It does not accept government funds for the construction of new houses or for the renovation or repair of existing houses. Habitat does accept government assistance for the acquisition of land or houses in need of rehabilitation. Habitat also accepts government help for streets, utilities and administrative expenses, as long as the funds carry no obligations that would limit Habitat’s ability to proclaim its Christian witness. 

Myth: Habitat for Humanity was founded by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Truth: Habitat was started in 1976 in Americus, Ga., by Millard Fuller along with his wife LindaPresident Carter and his wife Rosalynn (whose home is eight miles from Americus, in Plains, Ga.), have been longtime Habitat supporters and volunteers who help bring national attention to the organization’s house-building work. Each year, they lead the Jimmy Carter Work Project to help build houses and raise awareness of the need for affordable housing.

Myth:  Habitat for Humanity is a southern poverty program.

TruthHabitat for Humanity International started in Americus, Georgia and remains based in Georgia.  It is a global partnership, however, drawing families in need together with volunteers and resources to build simple, decent houses—all over the world.  Habitat currently works in more than 90 countries.

Myth: Habitat for Humanity builds only in cities (or only in rural areas).

Truth: Habitat—through local affiliates—is at work in cities large and small; in suburbs and rural areas; in highly developed countries and in those with emerging economies.  Because poverty housing is so widespread, Habitat’s work goes on 365 days a year in hundreds of locations throughout the US and around the globe.  In 2007, a Habitat house was built somewhere in the world every 50 minutes.

Myth: Habitat for Humanity has chapters in every state and throughout the world.

Truth: Habitat operates through locally run affiliates, rather than through chapters controlled by the broader organization.  Affiliates are grassroots organizations of local people coming together to address local needs and operate within specific service areas in a covenant relationship with Habitat for Humanity International.  Habitat currently has affiliates in every state and in various countries throughout the world.

Myth: Habitat homeowners sell their houses and make a large profit because of the original low cost.

TruthHistorically this has not been an issue for Habitat affiliates, in part because it has been such a long journey for families to become homeowners in the first place.  However, to help safeguard against this possibility, Habitat affiliates have special second mortgages that are “paid off” by living in the house, as well as first buy-back option clauses that affiliates include in their agreements with homeowners.