03-31-2008: news-topnews

Bismarck Tribune

Shawn Stettner lives in a modest gray and white home on the north side of Mandan that she helped build. In 2003 it was Habitat for Humanity's 12th home built in the Bismarck-Mandan area.

At first, when Stettner's co-workers suggested she apply for a Habitat for Humanity home she thought that she wouldn't qualify.

"I kept hesitating doing it because I just figured there were probably more needy families, or more deserving families," Stettner said.

Now Habitat for Humanity is set to begin its 18th home after 15 years in Bismarck-Mandan.

"Before I got involved I always thought Habitat built a house and then they just gave it to the family. I didn't realize that was such a misconception and I don't know if it is still a misconception out there. I mean we have to make our house payment just like anyone else," Stettner said.

A lot of people might still see it that way, but Habitat for Humanity is anything but your normal charity.

When Habitat for Humanity gets ready to start a project like the house that will soon be going up at 720 W. Ave. A, one of the first things that they do is start looking for what they call a "partner family" for the project.

The partner family can't make too much but they still need to have enough income to make a monthly house payment. The income guidelines are between $1,550 and $2,583 per month for a family of four.

Habitat doesn't give their houses away but they do sell them at no profit and set up a payment schedule with the partner family that is essentially an interest-free loan.

Money to build the homes is raised from grants and community contributions. Jessie Quinn, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, estimates that they have raised around $1.4 million over the years.

According to their brochure the payments on a Habitat for Humanity home total $450 per month. That amount includes the principal payment, taxes, and home insurance escrow.

Some times persistence pays off in the application process.

Brady Davis was living in a small Bismarck apartment, about 1,250 square feet, when he was approved for a Habitat for Humanity house. He applied three times before he was approved.

"The last time I applied was in 2006 and then she let me know in March that I was selected," Davis said.

"It was kind of crammed tight," Davis said of the apartment he was living in before moving into his house. "I had four kids sharing a bedroom."

But a Habitat for Humanity house isn't just paid for in dollars and cents. Habitat also requires what's called "sweat equity."

Partner families are required to put in 400 hours for a married couple or 200 hours for a single parent family working on either their own home or a Habitat for Humanity house for someone else.

"That was interesting, the main thing was having patience and coming back every day," Davis said about his sweat equity hours.

In Stettner's case, her house was built on a half lot with another Habitat house so she put in many hours on her neighbor's house before even starting on her own home.

"We put a lot of hours in on Marsha's house and then once hers was complete then I could start putting my sweat equity hours in on my own place," Stettner said.

At Habitat for Humanity, they feel that the sweat equity gives the partner families more pride in their new homes and also helps to make the home their own.

"I know I way exceeded my hours. I convinced my daughter to come out and help, she helped put up that wall right there," Stettner said, proudly pointing at a wall in the living room. "It's probably one of the best things that I've done short of having my daughter. It's really awesome when you're here working on your own place."

Aside from the partner family's sweat equity, Habitat houses often attract 200 to 300 volunteers, according to Quinn.

"There was one individual, his name was Orville, from around the neighborhood and he was like 81. He came out there every day," Davis said. "It is a blessing. I would like to thank everybody in the community for stepping up and helping us to get it done."

The people at Habitat also work to accommodate members of partner families with disabilities so they can put in their sweat equity hours in whatever ways that they are able to, sometimes even helping out with the paperwork that goes into getting their house built.

Before moving into their Habitat home, Stettner and her daughter Ashley were living in a small apartment in Bismarck.

"It was just really too small for mine and Ashley's needs. Her bedroom was more of a walk way from the living room to the bathroom," Stettner said.

In their house in Mandan, Ashley got to design her own room.

Quinn said that they like to take special care to make sure that children from their partner families get to be a part of the process too.

"She picked out her own carpet, she picked out the paint for her bedroom, she actually painted her bedroom herself. When they were going to come in and spray the texture she wanted glitter in her ceiling so she had a glittery ceiling. I think she even picked out the light fixture for her room," Stettner said.

"It was fun," Ashley Stettner said of the experience.

Now that Ashley's grown and living in Bismarck with twin sons of her own, her sons stay in her old room when they come to see Grandma.

"It's just been a positive experience. I just was so thrilled to have my own home. Up until this it had always been apartments. Ashley and I, when she was little, had moved a fair amount so it felt really good to give her some roots," Stettner said.

At Habitat they are still taking applications for potential partner families for "number 18." They hope to make a decision by April or May. Families can request an application or more information by calling Habitat for Humanity at 255-7566.

(James Ziegler is a Bismarck State College student. He can be reached at 701-302-0822.)


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