Affordability of a home should be calculated based not on a home’s price, but on how much it costs to own. There is a big difference.

Affordability is defined to be not more than 30 percent of a family’s income, and it includes mortgage payments, insurance, property taxes.

Much has been said about the region’s severe lack of affordable housing. Habitat for Humanity is one of many organizations working to help solve this problem. However, Habitat has a unique approach to the housing problem. Habitat makes homeownership – in the form of high quality, market value homes – affordable.

Here’s how:

The entire model of Habitat is based around community. We seek to build communities by making home ownership possible for those whose incomes would not normally allow them to own homes.

Essentially we finance part of the purchase price through a loan with no interest, no principle payments for as long as a family owns their home.

Our “no payments until sale” loans greatly reduce the monthly mortgage costs, keeping them below 30 percent.

But Habitat also relies upon communities to help make it all possible. Habitat only succeeds because the community supports our mission.

Community support allows us to greatly reduce construction costs.

Hundreds of volunteers of all skill levels donate their time every year to go to our sites and help our staff build our homes.

Habitat has also been blessed to receive donations every year from skilled tradespeople who do plumbing, electrical, and other work at reduced costs in order to support our mission.

We also receive in-kind donations, discounts from Maine and national companies on flooring, materials, cabinets, appliances, etc.

Generous local institutions donate to our communities, as do individuals and foundations. Our last two homes received donations of $45,000 and $60,000 and we have just received donations of $35,000 to “solarize” our next two builds.

Our ReStore sells donated materials to the public – because the materials are donated, we are able to create a surplus that we put back into home construction.

In addition to reducing construction costs, with the cooperation of local banks and other lenders we also use a financing model to make sure that our homes are affordable to own.

That model sets the monthly payment on the loan to purchase the home at 30 percent of our families’ income.

For example, looking at a $300,000 home, a family with an income of $40,000 would have monthly costs for mortgage, property taxes, insurance, and maintenance of only about $1,000.

Because that payment is generally not sufficient to cover the entire price of the home, Habitat lends the balance with no interest and no payment due until the family sells the home.

The end result is that we put families into three- and four-bedroom, two-bath homes that are high quality and highly energy efficient.

Despite our innovative program and all of the generous help we receive, Habitat’s impact on the housing crisis has been limited to date.

Recently, Habitat has been able to construct four houses in a year, which is a substantial increase over past years in which we only constructed one or two houses a year.

We want the number of homes we build and families we help to keep on growing, but we are limited by one major factor: Land.

Without land donations or sales at reduced prices, Habitat’s ability to serve is limited. We need municipalities to donate land on which to build these homes, developers to donate or sell us excess lots at reduced prices, and families to donate or sell us property and receive tax deductions.

There is no arguing that Greater Portland has a huge problem here, impacting our families, employers and the fabric of our communities.

Habitat is only one part of the solution, but with your help, we can all work together as a community to improve lives and create hope and opportunity.