One winter day five years ago, things were particularly not good for Zach and Elizabeth. The hot water was out. Their toddler kept getting hurt by the old, steam radiators, when they even worked at all. Zach thinks there was about 400 square feet of space in the tiny apartment. Rent was over $1,000 and rising.

But that day was also the one when Habitat for Humanity came to visit for an interview, one of the final steps for the family to complete before buying their new home.

While Zach and Elizabeth had been saving up to buy and stay close to their parents, they were also saving for Elizabeth to go to nursing school. During that time, the Portland housing market had fully accelerated.

“We felt left out,” Zach said, describing the additional despair when they both lost their City jobs in budget-based layoffs.

But they found an opportunity with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, which builds new energy efficient homes, with affordable financing for families that apply and are selected.

Following over a decade of upward trends, people want homes in Maine more than ever, which is driving up prices. But people already living here need homes in Maine, to be close to jobs and family. What many working people could use to make that happen is a simple hand up.

Habitat for Humanity Greater Portland Executive Director Godfrey Wood said most Habitat homeowners qualify for a $150,000 mortgage. Habitat receives the mortgage amount from the bank, and loans the families the rest of the purchase price, interest free, to be repaid only when house is sold. Wood said while many Mainers’ incomes qualify them to apply, the organization uses a scoring system to select families with the most need—safety comes first.

Wood emphasized the importance of affordable homeownership, not affordable rentals, in transforming people’s lives.

“Our families build wealth by owning their home, so we changed our policies to allow people to own faster,” he said. Wood looked forward to upcoming projects in South Portland and Freeport, and especially to finding the next families that Habitat will help lift onto stable ground.

“Their whole purpose is for people like us,” Zach said, “people who need help getting on stable ground. There’s no ulterior motive.”

Now, Elizabeth is a nurse practitioner working at MaineHealth. Zach teaches in Yarmouth public schools, where their daughters also attend. And Zach loves their new home and neighborhood.

“Something that Habitat looks for are people who want to be part of a community. All of us are working and have a similar ethos. You can’t pick your neighbors, but Habitat did for us.”

 

 

 

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