Building Boomlet

Habitat for Humanity finds opportunity in economic downturn

If there is a silver lining to Southern Nevada’s real estate collapse, Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas has found it. The nonprofit, which works with volunteers to build and sell affordable housing, hopes to build 45 homes over the next three years. That’s more than double what it’s built in the last three years.

Doug Kuntz, affordable housing coordinator with Henderson’s Neighborhood Services Division, says the city recently helped the organization acquire land for a fraction of what it paid in the past, thanks to plummeting real estate prices. For example, six lots in Henderson’s Pittman neighborhood cost less than what two lots cost in previous years.

“The land we just assisted them with purchasing was an old trailer park that had been in real bad shape over the years,” Kuntz says. “We were able to move the trailers out of there and we’re going to be able to put some nice houses there.”

Volunteers will begin working on the lots Sept. 11. Some of those volunteers will be the actual homeowners. Habitat for Humanity requires that homeowners put in 300 hours of “sweat equity” building others’ homes, as well as their own. The organization then sells the home to the low-income family. (Income requirements vary depending on household members. For example, a family of four must make between $26,000 and $52,550 to qualify.) In the end, the family pays Habitat back for the zero-interest loan. In coming months, Habitat will also be working on projects in Las Vegas and North Las Vegas.

Kuntz says that Habitat has helped improve the Henderson area for more than two decades. “They build really nice houses,” he says. “And they make sure that people keep them maintained.” Of course, with the flood of available houses it’s difficult these days to convince donors to provide funds to continue building. That’s an argument that Habitat for Humanity Las Vegas president Guy Amato fields regularly. “A lot of people are saying we don’t have a housing crisis anymore—you can buy a house for $130,000, why does anybody need help?” says Amato. “Our clients are working families that just don’t have enough money to get a traditional mortgage.”

It’s those nontraditional ways—namely, the fact that Habitat doesn’t rely on profiting on its homes—that helped earn the national organization of Habitat for Humanity the No. 8 spot on Builder magazine’s Builder 100 list, designating it one of the top 10 homebuilders in the U.S.

Amato acknowledges that the ranking makes more of a statement about the state of homebuilding than it does about the organization.

“It’s not necessarily because Habitat for Humanity, as a group, has built more houses,” he says. “It’s because some of the other builders haven’t built any houses.”

That’s because houses are some of the last things that a place like Las Vegas needs right now. Nevada has ranked No. 1 in the nation for foreclosures for 43 consecutive months. Amato says that he has looked into the possibility of Habitat purchasing and refurbishing foreclosed homes, but hasn’t gotten the funding and support necessary to do so. Founded in 1976, Habitat has worked on 350,000 homes worldwide, and its reputation as a nonprofit homebuilder is engrained.

“We have a very long-term view of growing this organization and the impact it will have on our community,” Amato says. “This foreclosure crisis that we’re in is, compared to our timeline of planning, very short-term.”

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Thur. 26 The desert is a different place at night, awash in moonlight instead of the merciless sun. If you haven’t experienced it, the Full Moon Hike at Spring Mountain Ranch is your chance. Be sure to bring along a flashlight and water. A park ranger will lead the hike. No pets are allowed. Hikers meet at 7:45 p.m. at the tour gate; admission is $7 per vehicle. Call 875-4141 to reserve your spot.