Myths and truths of Habitat for Humanity

By: Nick McGurk Email
By: Nick McGurk Email

For nearly two years, Katherine Harshberger has had a home in Nappanee.

"There were 50 volunteers on the first day and it was the middle of February and it was freezing cold," Harshberger said.

Harshberger remembers that February build when the countless volunteers pitched in, and her four kids worked as a team.

Harshberger is a single mother. Before Habitat, she says she wasn't sure where her four children would grow up -- or how she would pay for it.

"For instance the one house I lived in, there was no insulation in the house so my heating bills were running $400 and $500 a month," Harshberger said.

Harshberger is one of about 70 people in Elkhart County who pay mortgages to the county Habitat office every month.

"Some people think it's a give away kind of program like it's a free house or something, and that couldn't be further from the truth," said Tom McArthur with Elkhart County Habitat for Humanity said.

The truth, is Elkhart County accepts roughly one third of applicants in need whopay no-interest mortgages averaging $350 a month. Applicants are chosen from all religions and ethnicities. The only prerequisites are need, ability to pay and a desire to put in hundreds of hours of work.

"We get the families who have decided that they're going to take control of their lives, and build a better life for themselves,” McArthur said.

A life the Torres Family couldn't quite finance, even with both Sofia and her husband Daniel at work.

"We used to live in an upstairs apartment, and it was getting hard with him, [Alex] going up and down the stairs," Sofia said.

The Habitat home in South Bend made raising kids easier -- epecially their son Alex, in a wheel chair. And now, after 15 years, they haven't missed a mortgage payment. Their kids also had a steady place to grow up.

“Now they're older, and they have a place to call home, they can come back to,” Daniel Torres said.

That lifetime home is the goal for the Harshberger family, too.

A stable home where Katherine can raise four kids; because, three weeks after Harshberger moved in, she lost her job. Now, she does her best to put food on the table under a roof made possible through community.

As it turns out, very few people default on their homes. In Elkhart County, just under 3 percent of their homes have been foreclosed on in 22 years. The numbers are just under that in St. Joe County.

Homeowners are required to put in hundreds of hours of classes and work.

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