I was doing my weekday morning I-440 commute about a month ago and listening to a Dave Matthews Band CD and was struck by a lyric in their 1994 song, “The Best of What’s Around”.  The tiny lyric that caught my attention was “hold on tight”.

Times of economic upheaval like we are currently experiencing, call for a look at the underlying assumptions on which we operate and, in a good way, examine what is essential to what we are doing.  What can we let go?  To what must we hold on tight?

Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to eliminate substandard housing from the planet – by providing homes and by raising the collective consciousness such that being forced to live in substandard housing is not acceptable.

In my 22 year involvement with Habitat for Humanity on the local, national, and global levels, I have seen much change.  I personally get energized and encouraged by change – by looking at things in a fresh way and from different perspectives.  But I realize that when I say I like change, the change I really like is the change that I have a part in helping to shape, not the change that is forced upon me.

Many years back, Habitat had a policy not to accept government funding in any way.  Upon examination, we realized that governments were seeking to be partners just as any other entity would and that we should welcome the partnership, given that the acceptance of funds wouldn’t curtail our ability to proclaim the Christian faith from which we operate.  At Habitat Wake we now have strong partnerships with local, state, and federal government entities that we couldn’t imagine doing this work without.

Recently, we looked at our long-held practice of not charging interest to our homebuyers.  When explored more deeply, we realized that the no-interest provision was really all about making homeownership affordable to very low income individuals.  At Habitat Wake, we soon hope to partner with a US Department of Agriculture program that charges a nominal interest rate, but caps the monthly payment to 30% or less of a homebuyer’s monthly income – the home remains affordable to very low income families.  This will allow us to continue to serve more families in the federally-defined rural areas of Wake.

Back to Dave Matthews, there are some things to which Habitat “holds on tight”.  We believe that the best approach to serving the poor is a partnership venture where we work together.  Thus, our “sweat equity” component remains.  And selling the house (not giving it away) remains.  Partnership builds self-esteem and pride and that is a cornerstone of Habitat’s work.  We are a Christian organization and proud that we are.  I’m especially pleased how that Christian heritage plays out in Habitat – in a way that is welcoming and inclusive of those from other faiths and no faith at all – as it should be.

Many families are facing changes related to their living situations right now due to this economic upheaval.  Foreclosure rates are at record highs.  In some parts of Wake County, 1 in 275 homes received a foreclosure filing in August.  In other parts of the U.S., this number is much higher.  This type of change is not welcome.  My heart goes out to families who were enticed to buy a home and given a loan, based on the shaky prospect of steadily increasing home values that weren’t supported by reality.  Just think of the impact on families facing the humiliation of foreclosure and the relocation and school changes that follow.   Foreclosure can have long-term devastating impacts on a family.

In Habitat Wake, over our 25 year history, we are happy to report that over 90% of our original homebuyers are still living in their homes.  Currently, 88% of homebuyers are current on their mortgages and we are working diligently with the others to get current and be successful in their homebuying experience.  Since Habitat is the mortgage holder, Habitat Wake received nearly $1 million last fiscal year in mortgage payments that we are able to invest in current and future home building.  That’s something else to which we hold on tight – a revolving “Fund for Humanity” where donor dollars build a home and those dollars continue to recycle through our program to build more and more homes.

Our prayers go out to those who are facing unwelcome changes due to our current economy.  We stand ready to assist more and more families in need of simple, decent, affordable housing.   We welcome the changes that move us closer to achieving the ultimate vision of decent, affordable housing for everyone.  There is much yet to be done.  Please consider joining in the movement.