Crystal’s 10 Years with Habitat and Counting!

[Blog by Sophia Williams, Development Associate, Special Events & Marketing]

Crystal Stevens, Family Services & Education Director, has been a Habitat employee for 10 years! When she first started this journey she knew the importance of homeownership but had yet to see the impact she would have on numerous families.

“When I first applied and started looking into what Habitat did, it was interesting to me because my family, my mom and dad, hadn’t owned a home at that time… I know children do better when they are in a stable environment and homeownership does that more than rentals. I knew that before I came here just from my experiences growing up. Piecing those two together that this is what Habitat can provide for a family, that was one reason I really thought that would be a good fit for me,” said Crystal.

When Crystal first started with Habitat, she was the Finance Assistant and Office Manager. At that time, there were about 6 employees working at Habitat; now we have over 20! While working in these two roles Crystal was also supporting the Family Selection Committee. She quickly found that this is where her passion was- the family side of our work. One of Crystal’s favorite parts about working with families is seeing them grow over time.

“Homeownership is life changing for our families, and is a sense of reliefthat they will have something stable,” said Crystal.

Crystal has also been involved in our international work. She was a part of the first Habitat staff group that ventured to Guatemala in 2014 to build the homes for deserving families in Xela, and she went back again in 2016.

“For me, I love working here in my role, but knowing that our model works there too, at such a poverty level, is just a great thing. These families in Guatemala have a lot of pride in their home and respect just as our families do here. The trip humbles me. These families are amazing and I feel like I have left a little piece of myself each time,” said Crystal.

She plans to make the trip again next year and is looking forward to meeting the families Habitat will help. This year we are planning to have two different trips to help even more families. Here at Habitat we are always growing and improving as Crystal has seen while working here.

“I had only been here a short time when we had an ‘All Hands’ meeting. At this meeting, we were planning for the future, and I remember thinking ‘how are we going to do that?’ because we set a goal of renovating 20 homes a year by 2020. At that time we were doing about 6 homes a year and that was new construction,” said Crystal.

This past year we renovated 19 homes for 19 hard working families of low income. We are well on our way to hit the goals we set almost 10 years ago. In 2008, we switched from new construction to renovations which lead us to help even more families and focus on community development. This shift has allowed us to develop more programs, besides just homeownership, based on the needs of the community.

In the fall of 2015, Crystal led the charge of launching one of these new programs, the Habitat Education Program,  that is a personal financial coaching and education program designed to offer participants the resources and support they need to live a life free of financial worry.  Through an array of workshops, seminars and one-on-one coaching sessions with our Financial Coach, participants will gain the skills and confidence they need to tackle their most pressing financial challenges. Crystal’s leadership in developing this program has allowed Habitat to continue to grow and provide more opportunities for families to have a brighter future.

“The growth is one of the things I love here. We don’t feel like we need to do everything, but when we see a need within our mission, we try and provide it for our community,” Crystal continues, “Even though we have grown so much, it still feels like a family. I’ve never worked anywhere where I can just be me. The staff is so supportive. I see us continuing to grow and helping even more families than we are now.”

Thank you, Crystal, for all you have done to grow the work of Habitat! Your commitment to helping families build strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter has made a significant impact for hundreds of families today and for generations to come! Congratulations on 10 years of changing lives, and thank you!

Habitat’s 100th House Renovation!

[Blog Post by Rob Nissly, Housing Director]

Here at Habitat we reached a milestone this summer. We renovated and sold our 100th home. We have now renovated more homes than we have “built” and this model continues to be successful.

In 2007, as the housing crisis began in Michigan, Habitat was building four or five new homes every summer. In light of the economic realities, it became clear that we needed a different approach to our work of providing simple, decent, affordable homeownership opportunities for families. We had to change the way we viewed our process. It was clear that we needed to begin to renovate homes.

There were numerous concerns as we investigated the possibility of renovating properties – what should we buy, how much should we pay, will there be volunteer friendly work? As we developed a model for renovation, there were several factors that were important to the success of the new approach. We wanted the completed homes to be energy efficient – equaling that of a newly built home (our homes actually use about 40% less energy than a house built to code in 2007). We wanted to create homes that were low maintenance – concrete driveways, refinished hardwood floors, new vinyl siding, new mechanical systems, etc… And all of this needed to be accomplished using volunteers to complete new and varied tasks. We have been successful in leveraging our volunteer labor and donated materials to create wonderful homes for families.

Renovations have allowed us to improve many streets and neighborhoods where foreclosed, abandoned, and blighted properties littered the landscape. The model has worked well and in our just finished fiscal year 2016, we renovated and sold 19 homes. The acquisition of properties has become more of a challenge but we have been able to opportunistically purchase properties – working with banks, local municipalities, as well as the open market. For the near-term, we will continue to purchase, renovate, and sell homes. Over these eight years we have learned a great deal and have become a leader in home renovation across Habitat affiliates. What we have learned over these last several years will position us to continue to be successful in providing quality homeownership opportunities for families of low income.