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Indy Habitat for Humanity study shows homeowners earn more, spend less

A newly released 30-year impact study of Greater Indy Habitat for Humanity found that the organization’s clients have more financial security, less stress and higher levels of educational attainment after becoming homeowners.

Habitat promotes home-ownership for low-income families by selling them new and rehabbed houses, often paid for and built by volunteers, at zero-percent interest mortgages.

The group, which since its founding in 1987 has provided home ownership to 580 families, worked with the Indianapolis-based research group the Sagamore Institute to do the study.

Habitat President and CEO Jim Morris said the study results show the group’s work has resulted in increased stability for homeowners.

“Stability leapt off the page,” Morris said of the results. “In the attempt to figure out how you work at eliminating poverty or greatly reduce it, there’s no one single formula. There’s several things that come into play, whether it’s education, job training, reduced recidivism. Home ownership is really the beginning for that stability. Then the family goes on for whatever aspiration to improve quality of life later, whether that’s education or getting more engaged in their neighborhood.”

The study found that 53 percent of Habitat’s clients had started or completed higher education or training since becoming a homeowner, and another 18.2 percent said they planned to start or complete programs. Thirty-eight percent of family members had also started or completed school.

Habitat homeowners in Marion County had an average median income of $39,564, higher than the county-wide average of $32,383.

More than 57 percent of respondents worked 40 hours per week. Almost 16 percent said they work part time but would like to work full time. Another 8 percent were satisfied with part time work or were self-employed.

Habitat also helped homeowners spend less overall on monthly housing expense. Before the program, 56 percent of study participants were spending $599 or less on rent monthly, while 44 percent of participants spent $600 or more. But after the program, 98 percent of homeowners spent $599 or less on monthly housing expense.

“The goal is for them to invest into themselves as a family,” Morris said, not be burdened by high rent or mortgage payments.

The survey, which also asked questions about participants’ family lives before and after Habitat, found

  • a more than 28 percentage-point jump in homeowners who achieved personal financial security;
  • a 35 point increase in family quality of life;
  • a 15 point jump in the number of people who said their children had better study habits;
  • a nearly 13 point jump in adult work achievements;
  • a nearly 17 point jump in ability to spend quality time with family; and
  • 14 point jumps in attendance and grades among families with children.

The property analysis associated with the study also found benefits to local governments. Pre-intervention, the average assessed value of Habitat properties was $3,405; post intervention, that average increased to $67,471.

The organization’s activity has grown steeply over the past 10 years, and Morris said more growth is planned, though “demand definitely exceeds our ability to supply it.”

Twenty years ago, Habitat completed three houses a year. In the 2016-17 tracking year, the group built or rehabilitated 26 houses.

The group is trying to build more than 30 houses a year, Morris said.

“We have a donor that would like to see us get to 50,” he said. “We’d like to get there as well. We’re in an expensive mission because homes aren’t cheap to build. If we had unlimited resources, we could do more.”

The next horizon for the group is to go beyond single-family housing. Morris said in other areas of the country where Habitat works, “they’re not doing single-family homes; they’re doing brownstones and condos.”

He said the organization has been working with community development partners to explore the feasibility of offering different product types, especially in downtown neighborhoods.

Driving that discussion is the emergence of more clients who are single. They don’t need a three-bedroom house, Morris said, but “would do well in a townhouse.”

Morris said conversations about developing those types of properties are just starting.

The study was completed using email and mail surveys, interviews, focus groups and a property valuation analysis.

The results were based on 77 valid responses of a total of 383 current Habitat homeowners, or 20 percent. Abut half of the study participants had become homeowners within the past five years, while the rest had been homeowners longer.

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