EAST MISSOULA — Anyone who has done any building in the last year knows how pricy of an endeavor that can be. One organization whose entire mission is to build homes has found the cost of material, labor, and land has been a real test. But the solution to their problem can only be found through the people who support them.
Behind the blue siding of a local work in progress, half a dozen volunteers are bringing Habitat for Humanity’s vision to life. Volunteers like Cathy spend a few hours every week hammering one house into a home. It’s just part of her Thursday routine. Other volunteers can count up over a decade of houses they’ve had a hand in building in Missoula.
“We have roughly three to four to 500 volunteers each year donate their time to work on houses like this, Habitat for Humanity of Missoula executive director Heather Harp said.
While 500 volunteers sounds like a lot, Harp says that before the pandemic, they would have had even more. She told MTN News that fewer volunteers haven’t been their only challenge.
“Up until just recently, we've been able to keep our home cost which includes labor, lumber, lending costs, land costs, and law costs right around $200,000, which means that a family of four earning between 40 and 80% of AMI or area median income can afford our home.” - Habitat for Humanity of Missoula executive director Heather Harp
What used to cost $200,000 to build a home, now sits at $350,000 for the same material, the same labor, and the same land. That marks a 75% increase. “That is too expensive for our families to afford,” Harp noted.
Amid a housing crisis, this isn’t the time for Habitat for Humanity to back down, so the volunteers keep coming, and the houses get built despite each setback.
“In this last year, roughly $250,000 In terms of donated time value that we get to disperse between the cost of the construction of the home so it really helps to reduce our labor costs,” Harp told MTN News.
She noted even the land where some East Missoula houses sit has been donated, "this home is one of a major donation of land of 10 lots from 2018,” Harp explained.
Harp says it'll come down to creativity like embracing the idea of community land trust and looking to new types of building material. Future homes will be made from innovation, but their foundations will remain the same
“People can help us help others by either their time, their money, or their land,” Harp concluded.