Habitat for Humanity turns old homes into new

Three Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity housing projects are taking place within a few blocks in the Coon Rapids Woodcrest neighborhood.

The family that has moved into the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity-built home on Larch Street in Coon Rapids - Okongo Ongwach (father), Nyigwo Omot (mother), Ajwato (daughter) and Bako (son).

The family that has moved into the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity-built home on Larch Street in Coon Rapids – Okongo Ongwach (father), Nyigwo Omot (mother), Ajwato (daughter) and Bako (son).

In two cases, older, vacant homes next door to each other on the 9000 block of Larch Street N.W. were demolished with the help of the Coon Rapids Fire Department, which burned them to the ground as part of training exercises.

In their place will be new single-family homes that Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity sells to low income families.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity hosted a dedication ceremony for the new home completed at 9901 Larch St. N.W. late last month and a family has moved in.

Construction work has begun at 9911 Larch St. N.W., but no family has yet been identified for that home, according to Matt Haugen, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity communications manager.

Meantime, the home at 9900 Norway St. N.W., is being rehabilitated, rather than demolished, for a low income family, yet to be identified, to move in, Haugen said.

That project is expected to be completed by the end of the year with a closing in January 2013

In all three cases, the existing properties were donated to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, one by Wells Fargo, the bank that owned it following foreclosure, and two by Anoka County through its federally-funded Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).

Volunteers from Zion Lutheran Church in Minneapolis worked on the construction of the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity home on Larch Street along with new homeowner Okongo Ongwach (standing in the back) as part of his sweat equity requirement.

Volunteers from Zion Lutheran Church in Minneapolis worked on the construction of the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity home on Larch Street along with new homeowner Okongo Ongwach (standing in the back) as part of his sweat equity requirement.

Through this program, the county has been acquiring vacant/foreclosed homes and either demolishing the existing house and selling the vacant land for redevelopment or remodeling and selling the property to income-qualified families.

The Coon Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), which comprises the seven members of the Coon Rapids City Council, provided financial assistance to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity for the demolition of the two homes on Larch Street.

Both properties were in very poor condition and repeatedly cited for building and property violations, according to Matt Brown, city community development specialist.

In both cases, the new homes that Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity is building come with four bedrooms and two bathrooms, Brown said.

None of the original houses had basements because of poor soil conditions in the Woodcrest area and the remodeled and new homes will also be slab on grade, he said.

There is no city role in the construction and rehabilitation of the properties, Brown said.

According to Haugen, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has been concentrating its efforts in Anoka County and particularly Coon Rapids and Fridley because it sees a need.

In the past, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has focused on scattered sites, but now it is looking to concentrate its work in certain neighborhoods, Haugen said.

This is both meeting a need for new, affordable housing for low-income families, but also increasing the visibility of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity and its housing programs, he said.

“We want to make sure it is a good fit, however,” Haugen said.

The homes that are built and remodeled meet health and safety codes and are functional, according to Haugen.

“There are a few extras to save energy, for example the windows, and lead to long-term sustainability for the family moving in,” Haugen said.

Federal HOME affordable housing dollars, allocated by the Anoka County Board and Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) from the county’s annual allotment from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), help pay for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity’s construction and remodeling costs.

Families have to sign up to be considered for a Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity remodeled or constructed house.

One of the eligibility conditions is that they have to earn less than 50 percent of the area median income.

In addition, they have to complete home ownership classes, put 300 hours to 500 hours of sweat equity into the house and demonstrate the ability to pay Habitat’s zero percent mortgage, Haugen said.

Typically, once a family qualifies and is accepted in the program, they are given a choice of homes of the right size for their needs in the area where they currently live, he said.

The 30-year mortgage that Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity provides cannot be more than 30 percent of the family’s base income, according to Haugen.

In addition, a second mortgage is taken out on the property that is forgiven if the original mortgage is paid in full, Haugen said.

“We don’t want the family to sell and reap the benefit,” he said.

If the family does want to leave the home, then Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has the option of getting the house back and selling it to another family, Haugen said.

Okongo Ongwach and his wife Nyigwo Omot and their son, Bako, 15, and daughter, Ajwato, 9, have moved into the new Twin Habitat for Humanity home at 9900 Larch Street.

They previously lived in an apartment in Fridley and could not wait to move out of their apartment and into their new home, according to Okongo.

“We are the first generation in our family to move to the U.S. and own a house,” Okongo said.

Both Okongo and Nyigwo are originally from South Sudan.

Okongo came to the United States alone in 1995 “to escape the war,” first to Seattle, Wash., where an uncle lived, then later to the Twin Cities where other relatives reside to go to college and find a job, he said.

He and Nyigwo knew each other growing up in South Sudan, but she did not leave the country until 2000 when she moved to Canada, Okongo said.

They met up again, Nyigwo moved to the Twin Cities and they got married.

Okongo worked in the same job for eight years before he was laid off earlier this year, but he has been able to find employment with Homeward Bound, an organization that works with people with disabilities, he said.

That was important because to qualify for the Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity program, he had to have a job, according to Okongo.

The home in Coon Rapids attracted him because it was close to where he lived in Fridley and is convenient for traveling to work, Okongo said.

“We are very excited,” he said.

Okongo put in 400 hours of sweat equity, both on the construction of his new home and at a Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity warehouse.

His children currently attend school in the Spring Lake Park School District, but will soon transfer to Anoka-Hennepin District 11 schools, Okongo said.

According to its website, the mission of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity is to eliminate poverty housing from the Twin Cities and make decent affordable shelter for all people as a matter of conscience.

Through its home ownership program, 840 local families had purchased Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity homes since its inception in 1985, the website states.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com


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