MISSOULA — Like many organizations, Missoula’s Habitat For Humanity has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to years past, volunteer numbers are down by 90%.
“Our volunteer numbers were closer to maybe 30 compared to over 300, and these 300 volunteers typically contribute north of 16,000 hours a year," Missoula Habitat for Humanity executive director Heather Harp told MTN News.
Yet, thanks to generous community donations and foundation donations -- along with tireless work by their uniquely small core of volunteers and construction crews -- Habitat for Humanity is close to completing their annual average.
“We’ve had a reputation of building an average of two homes a year and this year was no different," Harp said. "We didn’t know quite what all the protocols that we needed to follow, so we’re going to run over into next year for actually finishing the construction on those."
Harp expects the two homes to be completed by early 2021. A family of seven -- including five children -- will be moving into one home, with a family of three moving into the other.
Harp explained that the families have had to put in a lot of work in order to qualify for these homes,.
"There’s a lot of sweat equity that’s required of folks. They’ve got to be ready financially, so that means they’ve taken the financial savviness class and the first-time homebuyer class from Homeward," Harp said. "In addition to that, they have to contribute 500 hours of sweat equity to the construction of their home.”
Harp says they have a much bigger goal moving forward. With more demand for homes than supply, and with the median price of Missoula homes rising dramatically, they are exploring new ways of financing in order to build 30 homes a year by 2030.
“Financing the way we have always done it before will only get us two homes a year," Harp said. "We’re going to look at federal funding in a different way than we have never really examined before and that will provide leverage in ways that will actually allow us to accelerate our capacity.”
But in the meantime, the more immediate goal is to get through the pandemic and get those volunteers back that they have relied on to help struggling families get into homes.