Habitat for Humanity’s Fresno County CEO Matthew Grundy stands in the living room of a new house under construction in Clovis. Once homeless as a teenager, Grundy now helps families find better housing. Photo by Donald Promnitz
Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Habitat for Humanity International, the world’s largest nonprofit homebuilder, has been hard at work making houses within the Central Valley and in doing so, it has been building partnerships in the community.
“Housing is a basic need,” said Housing for Humanity’s Fresno County CEO Matthew Grundy. “Safe housing is a basic need and in Fresno County, there’s a shortfall of 33,000 affordable home units. One in three families in Fresno County are under the poverty line.”
Habitat for Humanity opened its Fresno County office in 1985. In that time, they have built homes for 138 families. The organization also works to repair houses and engage communities and neighborhoods in their efforts. In the last fiscal year alone, the Fresno branch improved the housing conditions for 280 families.
The Fresno County office also runs two ReStores—warehouses for building equipment that help Habitat for Humanity raise money.
“Beyond just homes, we’re interested in loving existing housing stock and people who have homes,” Grundy said. “We also have a critical repair program where our purpose is to help families with their critical needs in their existing housing.”
Grundy has been with Habitat for Humanity for two years. Having been homeless in high school, he said he knows what it’s like for many of the families that his office helps.
“Like anybody else in life, things aren’t always perfect and life happened to my family,” Grundy said. “I was raised in a wonderful household—two loving parents and a great area in Southern California—and all of a sudden, my mom was diagnosed as terminally ill, my dad lost his job three years before retirement, and basically, we went poor trying to keep her alive.”
Grundy said that it was through the efforts of his community that he was able to get through these hardships. Now, he tries to apply what he’s learned through this experience.
“It’s a communal effort,” Grundy said. “It really does take a village, and everyone puts in a piece to help families attain strength, stability and self-reliance through housing.”
One of those families helped was that of Armenian immigrant Nina Chalabyan, who found out that she and her husband, Robert Tevanyan, were selected for a new house in Clovis last December.
“It was a wonderful present for us because usually, people are expecting presents on Christmas, but we really were so excited at hearing about that kind of present,” Chalabyan said in Armenian, as translated by her adult daughter. “Americans’ dreams come true.”
At the Tulare/Kings branch of the organization, Executive Director Dirk Holkeboer said that his office has built 65 houses in the 22 years that they have been in Visalia, giving low-income families a hand-up and a chance to own comfortable, affordable residencies. They also run a ReStore in Visalia.
“It’s good work to do,” Holkeboer said, “and I think we realize that when we hand the keys to a new homeowner who never imagined that they would ever become a homeowner.”
Holkeboer, a former lawyer, became involved with Habitat for Humanity in 1988. He is one of the 12 people working at his branch—nine of whom are full-time.
In order to qualify for a home with Habitat for Humanity, a candidate must be either a United States citizen or permanent resident and make an income of less than 80 percent of the median for a family of the applicant’s size—the HUD definition of a low-income household. The family, however, must have reasonable credit.
This is because the applicants will be required to commit themselves to a partnership with Habitat for Humanity and pay a monthly, zero-interest mortgage. The payments will then enter the organization’s revolving loan fund to help pay for the building of more houses.
In addition, Grundy said that those selected must agree to what they call “sweat equity”— an agreement to put in 500 hours of work towards their homes and helping with the homes of others.
“We’re partners with homeowners,” Holkeboer said. “In doing so, they support habitat projects.”
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, it helps change families’ lives,” Grundy said. “So what gets me up in the morning is having the chance to love people through housing.”