Habitat for Humanity lends helping hand to affordable Waco housing

Habitat for Humanity has changed the Waco community by helping with building homes. Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity

By Tatum Mitchell | Staff Writer

Waco Habitat for Humanity has been building a better future for affordable housing in Waco and McLennan County since 1986 by actively constructing homes to initiate a more lenient housing market.

John Alexander, executive director, said the organization works through a construction program and a building material recycling center called Habitat ReStore to build homes, community and hope. The international branch of Habitat has been operating since 1976.

“We build homes, using primarily volunteer labor, including that of the homeowners who are going to be buying the houses,” Alexander said. “We sell the house through a zero-interest mortgage so that it’s affordable for those most in need of Habitat’s assistance.”

At Habitat ReStore, Alexander said they take donations of new and used building materials in order to sell them to the public, raise funds for the organization’s mission and keep materials out of landfills.

Alvarado senior Cameron Dvorcek is an event coordinator for Habitat through the Bears Medical Student Association. Dvorcek said he enjoys volunteering with Habitat because it allows him to give back.

“The Waco community gives the Baylor students so much already that it’s only fair that we give back to them,” Dvorcek said. “Habitat for Humanity really helps to do that.”

Habitat plans to build four houses this year. Alexander said they slowed down a few years ago due to a lack of affordable land and the rising costs of building materials. He said affordable housing is at a crisis point in Waco and in the U.S.

“It was already difficult for low-income families to find affordable housing, and in the last couple of years, housing costs have skyrocketed,” Alexander said. “The cost of building, property taxes, insurance — all of that has gone up, which affects the rental payments that people are paying, so the options for affordable housing are limited.”

Joanie Friesen, community engagement coordinator, said via email Habitat could not exist without volunteers. In the past, Habitat has built a structure on Baylor’s campus to raise awareness about the organization.

“Volunteers also have the opportunity to work alongside partner families as they work toward their goal of homeownership,” Friesen said. “You can physically see the impact you are making as a volunteer at our construction site, and we can see it as our volunteer base grows, Baylor University volunteers being an intricate part of that.”

Friesen said part of their mission is to revitalize neighborhoods.

“All this combined cultivates a sense of belonging within our organization, as everyone can have a part in helping build safe, decent and affordable homes in Waco,” Friesen said.

Habitat works with families that make 60% or less of the area median income. Habitat is able to provide affordable housing; its new house payments are around $600 to $650, and it offers payments as low as $350 a month for the older homes.

It has informational application meetings approximately once a year for potential applicants to learn if they are a good fit for the program. There are four requirements for a family: the applicants must have lived or worked in Waco for at least a year, have a need for assistance, have the ability to repay the mortgage and have a willingness to partner with Habitat.

“That means a willingness to help build other people’s homes and their own home — also to do what we call the new homeowner’s college, which is a series of about 10 courses,” Alexander said.

To volunteer, Alexander said to visit the website and sign up using the volunteer calendar. Dvorcek said being able to see the impact their volunteer work is having is a good feeling.

“I’ve always had a helping heart,” Dvorcek said. “I really do like to volunteer and give back. Seeing that my work is making a difference really does make me feel good about what I’m doing, and it makes it seem really worth it.”