But Habitat for Humanity International, a charity that uses private donations to build homes in distressed areas - with the help of volunteers and the future homeowners themselves - is coming to Jersey City.
Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) is a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian housing organization started in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller in Americus, Ga. In 28 years, the organization has built more than 175,000 homes in 3,000 communities worldwide. They have lured volunteers like former President Jimmy Carter.
The potential low-income homeowners apply to the organization and then put in hundreds of hours of "sweat equity," helping to build their own houses alongside volunteers. Homeowners are chosen through an interview process carried out by the board of directors of the branch in a specific community.
Before, the closest branches were in New York, Paterson and Newark.
Homes are for the most part built for no profit, with most of the construction materials either donated by private companies or purchased with whatever monies are raised. The homeowner will then purchase the finished home, financed with an affordable, no-interest mortgage. The mortgage payments are then put into a fund that will help finance future Habitat homes.
Margaret Cook-Levy, president of the board of directors of what will soon be the Habitat for Humanity for Greater Jersey City, said last week in a telephone interview with the Jersey City Reporter that one of their board directors with connections to Jersey City is currently in negotiations with City Hall for a parcel of land located on Ocean Avenue near Stegman Street in the Greenville section.
Once that is acquired, construction would commence. Cook-Levy said that based on her experience in Habitat in Humanity, that acquisition and the following construction could take up to a year if not longer.
There will be a "Corporate Community Summit" for Habitat for Humanity officials to introduce themselves to the business sector of Jersey City and Hudson County on Oct. 19 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Jersey City.
Building a foundation
Cook-Levy, who has been involved with Habitat for Humanity International since 1981, said there were initial talks with the late mayor of Jersey City, Glenn D. Cunningham, to bring Habitat for Humanity International to Jersey City as soon as last year.
"The late mayor was very enthusiastic about what we would plan to do in Jersey City. But when he passed away, that set us back somewhat," said Cook-Levy, who previously ran HFHI branches in Newark and most recently in Bergen County.
Cook-Levy said the plan is to build at least two houses in Jersey City within the first year. As is the case with many large cities, there is a lack of land available because vacant land many times is slated for large, corporate developers.
"Eventually, [Habitat for Humanity] hopes to build at least 15 houses a year in Hudson County," she said, "but it will take time to get to that point. Possibly five or 10 years." She cited the example of the city of Paterson, where HFHI has built about 120 houses over 15 years.
Cook-Levy also said that it takes time to find volunteers and even some professional help to get the construction started, and time to raise funds to purchase the construction materials.
That's where the upcoming "Corporate Community Summit" comes in. The summit scheduled for Oct. 19 at the Hyatt Regency Jersey City on the Hudson located at Exchange Place from 5 to 7 p.m. At the event, there will be a presentation by Habitat for Humanity of their work, and a current Habitat homeowner will be there.
Acting Mayor L. Harvey Smith will speak about the land to be granted to Habitat, and the featured speaker for the event is former New York Giants tight end Howard Cross.
Executives and other officials of various corporations in Hudson County will be invited to see if they can donate money and/or time toward the Greater Jersey City branch of HFHI.
"Businesses have found that it got greater response from its employees when sponsoring work parties, where employees have given their time toward an endeavor such as building a Habitat home instead of work-related retreats," said Cook-Levy. "It means something to build with your own hands."
The homes that would be built in Jersey City would cost the homeowner $85,000, which would pay for the cost of the construction materials, said Cook-Levy. This would be paid through a no-interest mortgage. The money would then go into what is known in HFHI parlance as a "Fund for Humanity" that would finance the construction of the next home.
Cook-Levy and others on the board of directors said they are already receiving calls from plenty of people interested in purchasing a Habitat home. But as Cook-Levy pointed out several times in the interview, there is a common misconception that a Habitat home is a "giveaway."
"We expect those who are interested in ownership of a Habitat home to put in the time, sweat equity in building this home," said Cook-Levy, who estimated that at least 400 hours is required of the eventual homeowner. Other requirements looked for in a potential Habitat homeowner include financial need, and the ability to pay back the mortgage. Interviews will take place once the parcel of land has been acquired, with Cook-Levy conducting the interviews. Many of the interested parties will be referred to HFHI through various religious organizations and social agencies.
For more information, call (201) 222-8030 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cook-Levy said there isn't an office set up at the present time, since the initial monies coming to Habitat for Humanity would go immediately into the construction of new homes.