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What is Habitat for Humanity?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Habitat for Humanity is an international Christian service organization that sends volunteers of all faiths all over the world to help low income individuals build homes. The organization works in tandem with local groups to organize volunteers and identify people in need of homes, and had built more than 225,000 homes for over one million people by 2006. The services it provides are vital for people in nations all over the world, ranging from America to Zaire, and volunteers often cite work with the group as a life changing experience.

The organization was founded in 1976 by Linda and Millard Fuller, who abandoned well-paying jobs to dedicate themselves to Christian service. They saw a need for low income housing that empowered the people who lived in it, and started out in the American South before traveling to Africa to build homes. Support for the organization continues to grow, bolstered by former United States President Jimmy Carter and his wife, who lead the Jimmy Carter Work Project each year. During the project, volunteers, including the president and his wife, build 100 homes in one week in locations which vary widely, from India to Brooklyn.

One common misconception about Habitat for Humanity is that the organization gives homes away. The group does not believe that giving out free homes empowers people, and the new owners do pay for their homes, although the price is greatly reduced. In addition, homeowners help to build their homes, in tandem with volunteers. The combined investment of money and labor in the home gives the owner a sense of pride and accomplishment, it is suggested, that would not be achieved if the home had been simply given away. The monthly mortgage payments are used to fund projects in other parts of the world, so, in a way, homeowners contribute to the organization simply by living in and using their new homes.

Although Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization, it welcomes people of all faiths to volunteer to build homes and does not discriminate against home applications on the basis of religious affiliation. Homeowners and volunteers work in an environment that encourages mutual respect and courtesy, and the experience is often said to be educational and enlightening for all parties. The organization also values traditional cultural values, and builds modest, comfortable homes that are in line with the cultural norms of the homeowner. It is also committed to environmentally sustainable building and living practices, and works to encourage sustainability in the communities it is active in.

Donations are the primary source of land, materials, and labor. These donations are often coordinated by local organizations, which help to organize volunteers and material donations. When a community organization affiliated with the larger group identifies people in need, it contacts the parent organization, which further assists with organizing, grants, and experienced volunteers. People who are interested in volunteering can contact a local chapter.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon308956 — On Dec 13, 2012

I worked for Habitat for Humanity for about three and a half weeks. They came to me for help because their project manager was going on vacation. They hired me at less than half my standard wage. Much of my time was donated.

The house they were building was filled with problems. The siding was being installed wrong. The site was a mess. Materials were scattered all around in the mud. It was the most disorganized mess I've ever seen on a job site. The workmanship was terrible.

When I tried to talk with them about what was going wrong, I was treated with unbelievable contempt. It was a disaster. I quit. I'll never help those people out again. It was a waste of time. I feel sorry for the folks who buy the place. It will be falling apart in 10 years.

By anon146302 — On Jan 26, 2011

I have heard so much about this habitat for humanity. how do i get real help? my mother purchases supplies all the time to "patch" things up. We live in a double wide from 70's. we have replaced our hallway floor plus bathroom floor and interior panels for our hallway with materials from habitat. Our back door is really a shaved down bedroom door made to fit because the real back doors were too expensive. Our roof leaks in every room of our home. The ceiling panels are barely hanging on in some areas and in others they have already collapsed, but we were able to afford some cheap panels to nail up to cover the holes.

I am 18, i have a 5 month old baby, i live with my single mother, grandmother and little brother who is 15. My older brother is away in college. i am a college student too.

Anyway, what i am really trying to say altogether is how do we get real help from habitat? we desperately need it. My mother owns her land and we actually even were approved to buy a home from Vanderbilt but could not afford the $800 dollar monthly payments. please i hope you could help, even if you could direct me to some where else that may could help, that would be so wonderful to me. God bless.

By anon79330 — On Apr 22, 2010

Habitat for humanity has good principles but at the end the results are dangerous to people.

I am one of the people who has a house built in 2002 but already it is falling apart due to poor workmanship.

I regret the day I approached their office for me to build a house. If I had been in my shack wherein i slept in peace without fear of being buried alive during windy times.

It is no use trying to help people but at the same time put their lives in danger. I approached them about the problem but nothing had been done. I was told that they will repair my house but until this day nothing had been done. I will not encourage poor people like myself to approach habitat for humanity if they need to build proper houses for themselves.

They should build a small house that they afford by that time even if it is only 1 room and extend in time. It is better safe than sorry.

Now I must start afresh and build a safe house for my family my money has gone down the drain.

By anon22950 — On Dec 13, 2008

anon2842, are you willing to come in as an outside full-time auditor of this process, donating your time? If not, you will need to get on HFH's payroll and then you too become subjective. Is the nature of it and as they said, there are other grading factors. I too have reservations but feel this is the best option given the reality. We need to have an approach of pragmatic solidarity, not only an idealism that has no bite.

By anon10725 — On Apr 01, 2008

I am presently in Iraq and received some disturbing news from someone who has a home through [habitat for humanity]. What kind of organization that is Christian and provides the help of giving families homes and lower rates but you don't have anything to offer families that are going through a rough time and can't afford the payment at the given moment and time. I know what kind of organization this is I work for the Government myself. You should offer something to help families when going through a rough period before it comes to foreclosure.

By anon3015 — On Aug 06, 2007

Regarding the mortgage payments....these are monies to pay for the building costs of the home. The monies raised for the home construction is done by volunteers, the labor to build the home is done by volunteers,(other than licensed trades like HVAC, Electrical, Plumbing, Concrete, etc which are included in the home construction costs),and, the loan is carried by Habitat at no interest. The new homeowner gets built in equity, and most importantly, a new, clean home to raise a family. Indeed, the cost of home ownership is more than the ability to make loan payments....property taxes, house insurance, utilities, maintenance, etc are all part of the "luxury" of owning a home. The concept of Habitat is a helping hand up not a hand out. It is a ministry of volunteers who want to help others be able to enrich their lives, their surroundings, and their family with a stable home environment.

By anon2973 — On Aug 03, 2007

I support what habitat is doing for people who are in need. But what I don't understand is how can habitat expect someone to pay same amount as any other mortgages while they are poor and in need of home. If someone can pay such amounts in mortgages, they wouldn't need the habitat assistance in the first place. I again understand the "no interest part" but when they include things like mortgage, property tax, maintenance, heat, hydro, water,...and that amounts to near paying regular mortgage....isn't that causing the same hardships they had before???

By anon2894 — On Jul 30, 2007

Regarding the selection of families for Habitat houses; our selection criteria is based on three main tenants: Need, Ability to Pay (mortgage), and Willingess to Partner (300 hours...100 to build your own home, 100 to build another family's home, and 100 of providence living courses taught by Habitat...family budgeting, home and landscape maintenance, etc. In a large number of cases, the interview and in-home visit of the families is the pre-eminent input to define need (ie the family's current living conditions). Our affiliate strives to help the local families who strive and desire to help themselves. It is always unfortunate that some families are chosen over others; however, limited sponsorships created limited number of houses to be built.

By anon2842 — On Jul 28, 2007

Unfortunately, the process for qualifying for a Habitat for Humanity home is loaded with unfairness and favoritism. The initial qualification process is based on a family's income and size, which is fair. After the initial qualification process is where things go terribly wrong. The final decision for being able to obtain a home is based on the personal decision of a worker from Habitat for Humanity. Also unfortunately, their decisions are almost always against Americans' and in favor of immigrants. There is nothing wrong with immigration and I am pro immigration. I just object to a process that should remain impartial and not boil-down to personal preferences when all qualifying families are in equal need.

By srcmprasad — On Jul 28, 2007

" Habitat for Humanity " Is there any activity of this Organization in India?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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