Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity of Washington stand in front of a new house (Herald-Standard photo).
By Mike Jones
The past two years were a one-two punch for Habitat for Humanity, but the nonprofit is ready to once again to start building from the ground up.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nonprofit’s chapters in Washington and Greene counties struggled to find volunteers to help build houses for families in need while an economic downturn and supply chain issues crippled the construction market.
But as the pandemic began to recede, the organizations were then met with skyrocketing costs for construction supplies for new builds and exploding prices for existing houses they hoped to buy and renovate.
“The pandemic had – and to some degree continues still has – a profound effect on our operations,” said Mark Twyford, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of Washington.
While the Washington agency would typically build two to four homes in an average year, it has only built two since the beginning of the pandemic.
“Our business model – to the extent it exceeds other nonprofits – depends on volunteers. It’s a resource that evaporated for nearly two years and didn’t return until this calendar year,” Twyford said. “We build homes, and homes are made of lumber. The price of lumber skyrocketed (during the pandemic). We’re not a business that can pass its cost on to our customers.”
Greene County Habitat for Humanity has faced similar issues, according to Executive Director Keith Davin. They’ve done one new build and two renovations during the pandemic, Davin said.
“It hurts a lot to think about building new homes right now. Not only just what we have to spend week-to-week to keep the projects going, but the cost at the end almost puts it out of reach for our clientele,” Davin said. “We don’t give anything away. What it costs us to make a project is what we sell it for.”
But both local organizations are now seeing the light at the end of the tunnel as they prepare for 2023. Twyford and Davin each said they expect to build or renovate houses for two clients in each of their respective counties next year as life continues to return to normal and volunteers begin to return to their ranks.
“It looks like we’ve turned the corner here, and with continued support, we should be moving forward with great speed in the near future,” Twyford said.
The clients who move in still must pay for the houses, but with zero percent mortgage rates offered, it’s an attractive option for those in need.
“It’s coming back and starting to get better. We hope the volunteer ranks fill up for us,” Davin said. “We always have a project going and we’re always working.”
Mike Jones is a reporter for the Herald-Standard of Uniontown, Pa. Helping the Helpers is a joint effort of the Herald-Standard and the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Email him at [email protected].
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