October 17, 2018

Habitat for Humanity’s History of Hands-On Help Continues in Princeton With Two New Residences

HELPING HANDS: “I am very excited about bringing affordable home ownership to families in Princeton and helping the town meet its affordable housing requirements,” says Annie Fox, development director of the Habitat for Humanity Burlington County & Greater Trenton-Princeton affiliate. Pictured here is the affiliate’s senior management team. From left are Ashley Griffins, director of Family and Volunteer Services; Annie Fox; Lori Leonard, CEO; Tristan Keyser, ReStore director; David Cummings, construction director; and John Garton, chief financial officer.

By Jean Stratton

The first houses were built in Princeton during 1995 and 1996. There are now four houses in the community, with one on Lytle Street, one on Birch Avenue, and two on Leigh Avenue. Two more are scheduled for construction on Lytle after the first of the year.

What all of these residences have in common is that they are part of the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity program, which helps people of low and moderate income own their own home.

The Affordable Homeownership Program enables Habitat for Humanity of Burlington County & Greater Trenton-Princeton to build new construction houses or rehabilitate existing vacant houses, and sell them to qualified and approved buyers.     

Habitat offers homeownership opportunities to households that are unable to obtain conventional mortgages. Generally, this includes those whose income is 30 to 60 percent of the area’s median income.    

“Fund for Humanity”

Begun in 1976 in Americus, Georgia, Habitat for Humanity was founded by Millard and Linda Fuller, who developed the idea of “partnership housing.”

The concept centered on those in need of adequate shelter working side by side with volunteers to build decent, affordable houses. They would be built at no profit. New homeowners’ house payments would be combined with no-interest loans provided by supporters and money earned by fundraising to create “The Fund for Humanity,” which would then be used to build more homes.

The organization’s work received widespread recognition when former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn Carter became longtime Habitat supporters and volunteers. Each year, they lead the Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Work Project to help build houses and raise awareness of the need for affordable housing.

In President Carter’s words: “A lot of time we learn all about Service, we learn about Love, and we talk about it. But Habitat lets us put it all into Practice.”

Over the past 42 years, Habitat for Humanity International has grown to a point where it is now a presence in every state, in nearly 1,400 communities across the U.S., and in approximately 70 countries worldwide. It has helped 13 million people achieve better lives by enabling them to have safe, decent, and affordable shelter.

As of 2011, Habitat had served more than a half million U.S. families with new, rehabilitated, repaired, and improved homes. In New Jersey, it has helped residents in every county. In 2017, Habitat for Humanity Trenton Area became the merged affiliate of Habitat for Humanity of Burlington County & Greater Trenton-Princeton.

Trenton Affiliate

Princeton resident David McAlpin, Jr., former associate pastor of the Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, was instrumental in founding the Trenton affiliate of Habitat in 1986. He has remained active and involved in the program over the years. He was also the recipient of the prestigious Leslie “Bud” Vivian Award from the Princeton Area Community Foundation in 2015.

Reverend McAlpin is currently president emeritus, continues on the Habitat affiliate board, and is a member of the Finance Committee and Partners Family Selection Committee.

Since their inception, the affiliates, according to Habitat figures, collectively built 150 homes throughout the Burlington and Mercer areas, serving 49 cities and more than 750,000 residents.

In Mercer County, it is reported that 41,596 residents live in poverty, and 103,991 more have income above the Federal Poverty Level, yet they cannot afford the expanding expenses of housing, childcare, food, transportation, and health care. These residents often earn wages above income threshold but fail to meet eligibility requirements for public assistance such as the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

Many Habitat homeowners are working people with a typical annual income less than half the local median income in their community. They are chosen without regard to race, religion, or ethnic group. Habitat also welcomes volunteers from all faiths or no faith, who actively embrace Habitat’s goal of eliminating poverty housing from the world. The program welcomes volunteers at any level of expertise, whether providing help with a hammer and nails, wielding other tools, carrying supplies, etc.

Prospective homeowners must demonstrate a need for safe, affordable housing. Once selected, they must partner with the Habitat organization throughout the process. This partnership includes performing “sweat equity,” or helping to build their own home or the homes of others in the homeownership program. Sweat equity can also including taking homeownership classes or performing volunteer work in a Habitat ReStore.

Affordable Mortgage

Homeowners must also be able and willing to pay an affordable mortgage based on income (and with no interest). Mortgage payments are cycled back into the community to help build additional Habitat houses.

Habitat offers homeowner preparation for the participants. This involves help from trained volunteers in financial matters, and navigating the pre- and post-home purchase.

In addition, Habitat collaborates with community partners to offer services related to home maintenance and repair and family needs.

“We are hoping to expand the Habitat program and build more houses in the Princeton, Lawrence, and Hamilton area,” says Lex Kochmann, Princeton liaison to the Habitat for Humanity of Burlington & Greater Trenton-Princeton affiliate. “So many people know about Habitat, but they don’t always know exactly what it does. We are currently in the process of building 25 houses in Mercer and Burlington counties.”

Habitat works with the municipality to set the construction process in motion. The town donates parcels of land and identifies low income families who may be eligible to participate. They can then file an application.

This was the case with the two houses (one two-bedroom, and one three-bedroom) to be built on Lytle Street. They are adjacent to the newly-opened  Mary B. Moss Playground, an appealing prospect for those with young children.

Dorothea’s House

Approval from various boards and committees was needed to see the process through. The current project has been approved by Princeton Affordable Housing, and since the location is in the historic Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, it was also approved by the Historical Preservation Committee. It is currently awaiting approval from the Zoning Board, and groundbreaking is expected after the first of the year.

Headquartered in Maple Shade, the affiliate opened a satellite Princeton office in Dorothea’s House at 120 John Street in 2017. 

“We are pleased and grateful to be in the historic Dorothea’s House,” says Kochmann. “Being here, we feel we are part of the community, and this is an opportunity to give back to the community. To see the family get the keys to their new house is the heart of what we do.”

As a nonprofit organization, Habitat relies on donations from a variety of sources, including corporations, organizations, institutions, grants, and individuals.

Generous Donation

Recently, a fundraising reception at Princeton University’s historic Prospect House was attended by municipal, Habitat, and University officials and representatives, and other Habitat supporters, at which time the University provided a generous donation to Habitat.

In addition, community events can bring in donations. Last year, the McCaffrey’s Food Market – Princeton held a two-week fundraiser, when shoppers had an opportunity to make contributions.

Another important means of obtaining funds is Habitat’s ReStore program. The Burlington County & Trenton-Princeton Habitat affiliate’s ReStore is located in Maple Shade. Open to the public, it offers donated items, both new and secondhand, including furniture, housewares, appliances, and building materials, at 50 to 90 percent reduced prices.

Proceeds from the ReStore go to Habitat, and Kochmann reports that this covers 100 percent of the administrative costs of the Burlington County & Greater Trenton-Princeton affiliate.

Both CEO Lori Leonard and Development Director Annie Fox are very enthusiastic about furthering Habitat’s goals and helping people achieve affordable housing in the Princeton community.

“Being able to work in partnership with the town government and the people of Princeton to construct two quality affordable homes is very gratifying,” says Leonard. “Princeton is such a great place to live, and the support of this project has been overwhelming.”

Adds Fox, “I have a saying whenever I visit our Princeton office: ‘It’s always sunny in Princeton.’ It’s such a beautiful town, and no doubt, affordability is a big concern. It is very gratifying that we will be bringing home ownership to families who would never have dreamed they could own in their town.”

For more information, call Lex Kochmann at (856) 441-2187. Website: www.habitatbcgtp.org.