It can be argued that Angela Gough has the hardest job in Itawamba County’s branch of Habitat for Humanity.
It’s a job shared by two other members, but it’s difficult and heart wrenching nonetheless. As a part of the organization’s selection committee, she has to tell hopeful families, “No.”
Of course, under normal circumstances, there’s one family that receives a “yes” instead, and plans move forward with the construction of a new home. But, not this time. Sometimes even the best intentions go awry.
“We went through the selection process, and nobody truly qualified,” Gough said. “This is the first time we’ve ever encountered this problem.”
So, Itawamba County Habitat for Humanity will begin reaccepting applications for its sixth house during a family selection event, to be held Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Habitat for Humanity office in the ICDC building in Fulton. Applicants can stop by from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. to receive help in filling out the organization’s application forms.
Families wanting to apply need to bring copies of paycheck stubs for every employed member of the household over the age of 18; a copy of last year’s IRS tax return; and copies of last month’s bills, including utilities, rent or mortgage, car payments and credit cards. Additionally, the organization requires copies of current award letters for child support, social security and supplemental security income, if applicable.
The selection committee, which currently consists of three people, following a strict set of guidelines, will then begin the long process of choosing a family. Habitat houses are not given to their recipients: They are purchased like any other home, just at a lower cost and interest free. However, there is a narrow range in which applicants must fit in order to even be considered for a home.
“Families just have to fit in this certain little category,” she said. “It’s a very small range: You have to earn enough to make payments on the house, but not enough to get a traditional home loan. Also, the number of people in the family makes a difference, or if there are special needs in the family.”
Gough and her fellow selection committee members look at three primary criteria when considering a family: Need, ability to pay and willingness to partner. Families considered to be in need live in substandard housing, which might include poor plumbing, heating or wiring; a leaking roof; and overcrowded, unsafe or unsanitary living conditions.
When considering a family’s ability to pay, the selection committee looks at its income. The family must be able to repay the mortgage and fall within the state guidelines of low or very low income households.
Finally, a family’s willingness to partner includes a required investment of 500 hours of “sweat equity,” or working on the family’s own house and future homes. Receiving a Habitat home requires a commitment to helping build other Habitat homes. Gough describes the relationship between Habitat and its families as “a partnership.”
She stressed the importance of honesty when applying for a home.
“If they tell us one little bitty fib, and it’s on the application, they have to be eliminated as an applicant,” Gough said. “They have to be totally honest with us … People sometimes tell us what they think we want to hear, but they really don’t know what we want to hear. The best thing you can do is be totally honest with us; tell us the truth.”
A small, difficult selection
“We know there are people out there who need these houses who aren’t applying,” Gough said. “There are people out there with great needs who we aren’t reaching.”
A typical family selection event usually yields a dozen or so applications. This time, however, Gough expects a larger turnout, as Habitat has made a strong effort to increase awareness of their presence in the county. This included distributing 1,000 fliers throughout the county, including to both Itawamba County food banks.
“We’re hoping to have a lot more applicants this time,” Gough said. “It’s hard to get the word out to the people who really need it. That’s something I hope we can improve upon.”
Although the applicants may start as many, most families are immediately eliminated for not falling within the organization’s guidelines, typically income level. It’s difficult having to tell a family that it is no longer being considered … the hardest part of the job in fact.
“We really can’t take our feelings into consideration,” Gough said. “When it gets down to the nitty gritty between two families, we have to pick the family with greater need. It could be one person or a family of 10; we can’t discriminate because one person still constitutes a family for us. But, most of the time, the family with children has a greater need. If it comes down to one person or a family with three or four kids, most of the time we have to lean towards the children because that’s more people trying to live off limited income.”
The only thing that makes it easier, she added, is the promise of future hope.
“We always tell them, and it’s always true, that we can’t accept their application at this time because a more needy family is being considered,” Gough said, adding that a family is always welcome, and encouraged to reapply for the next home. “We always invite applicants who aren’t accepted to return and apply again. Situations change, and just because they don’t qualify this time doesn’t mean they won’t qualify the next.”
For more information about Habitat for Humanity or the family selection process, call 862-9708 or 862-4269.
Adam Armour can be reached at 862-3141 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times