Men's Breakfast, May 9, 2015

The Men’s Breakfast Group met Saturday, May 9th with Mary-Ellen Thomas, executive director of Southern Brazoria chapter of Habitat for Humanity.  Lynne Randall, volunteer coordinator, and Steve Young, Safety director for Habitat were also present.  Mary-Ellen got involved in Habitat through her husband’s family in Saint Louis and then got involved in the Southern Brazoria chapter when she moved here.  After serving in staff positions she became executive director several years ago.  She said that she had never swung a hammer for habitat.  She uses that fact to convince potential volunteers that there is work for them in Habitat even if they do not have any construction skills. 

Habitat is a faith-based organization with the mission of providing decent housing for everyone regardless of income.  The local chapter is known for building houses from the ground up for moderate income people.  The local chapter of Habitat builds about four houses per year and nationally it ranks among the first three home builders in the United States.  Habitat is the only local builder that builds houses for under $100,000. 

The cost of the house is passed on to the buyer in the form of a no-interest mortgage.  Mortgage payments along with insurance and taxes mean that a Habitat house is not cheap rent.  The mortgage payments are what allows Habitat to build the next house in the sequence.  Because the payments are so high, Habitat houses are not for the really poor or even minimum wage workers.  Habitat has even foreclosed on houses it has built. 

The high cost of new houses is making the local chapter look at other ways of providing housing.  It is looking into rehabbing existing houses.  It is also looking into repairing houses that older people or people with disabilities are living in their own paid-for houses.  This used to be the mission of Carpenter’s Hands, but does not seem to be happening now.  Ed Ambs asked about the possibility of building several very small houses on one lot.  This has not been possible because cities have minimum size requirements for houses built in the city.  Housing for the really poor is still a problem.  Even with the high cost the waiting list for houses has been closed with a two year backlog. 

There are no paid Habitat positions; all are volunteer.  The Build is the most well-known activity, especially on the first Saturday when the frame of the house is constructed.  There are usually more than enough volunteers for this part of the build.  Later on during the week volunteers are scarce for the inside work and such things as plumbing and electrical.  This has become more of a problem since there are fewer able-bodied retirees that have incomes allowing them to volunteer for these jobs.  One solution is to have contractors paid to do more of the work.  Concrete work has always been done by contractors, but now some plumbing and roofing is also being done by contractors.  This is one reason that costs are escalating.  Electrical can be done by volunteers since there is a licensed electrician on site and all the volunteers are considered his helpers. 

Volunteers also provide food for the builders.  One family has provided barbeque for the first Saturday of each build for all the houses built by this chapter.  Lynne Randall is in charge of finding groups that will provide food for other days of the build.  She showed her sign “Will Beg for Food” at the breakfast.  People who cannot work on construction can provide food, either breakfast or lunch.  This is a good service activity for churches.  She will also accept cash so she can just buy food.
Another volunteer activity is the ReStore in Lake Jackson.  This is a resale shop where donated items are resold to raise money to build houses.  The ReStore usually finances one build per year.  The store specializes in furniture, but other items are also sold.  Building materials are not desired because they do not have space to store them. 

There are age restrictions on volunteers at a build site.  The minimum age is eighteen except that a sixteen-year-old can work with written permission of a parent.  Younger children can work on landscaping once the house is built.  Volunteers over age of 68 are not to work on roofs according to national policy.  This may be changing since a new protection system which prevents falls from roofs is being implemented. 
The men had an interesting discussion and a good breakfast.  The next meeting will be Saturday, J

une 13th with Norma Garcia, the newly re-elected mayor of Freeport.