Who Qualifies for a Habitat House?

A family will be considered for a Habitat house only if they meet three basic criteria:

  • a. Need
  • b. Ability to pay
  • c. Willingness to partner with Habitat

The family is considered in need if their present housing is substandard or not adequate and if adequate housing is not available to the family through conventional means.Substandard housing includes, but is not limited to: lack of structural integrity; violations of existing building codes for the plumbing, electrical, or heating and cooling systems, inadequate size, or if the neighborhood or building does not meet accepted safety standards.

The size of the family and the family income is considered for the ability of the family to repay through an affordable interest rate mortgage. In all cases, the family’s income must not exceed 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) as defined by HUD. 

Families must demonstrate their ability to make monthly payments on their mortgage, including an affordable interest rate, real estate taxes and insurance payments, without jeopardizing other family financial obligations and needs. Families are expected to have a monthly income equal to at least four times the anticipated monthly mortgage payment, which includes the taxes and insurance escrow, along with the principal payment. The current average monthly mortgage and escrow payment is approximately $350.

Families selected for Habitat homes must be willing to partner with Habitat and are required to work a minimum of 400 sweat equity hours for a single-adult partner family and 500 sweat equity hours for a 2-adult partner family. Sweat equity hours include, but are not limited to, working on construction of houses, working on other Habitat projects, and participating in educational workshops to help them prepare to be homeowners.

NOTICE: The federal Equal Credit Opportunity Act prohibits creditors from discriminating against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age (provided the applicant has the capacity to enter into a binding contract); because all or part of the applicant’s income derives from any public assistance program; or because the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. The federal agency that administers compliance with this law concerning this creditor is the Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580.

Are All Habitat Homeowners Legal Residents?

Roane County Habitat for Humanity (RCHFH) willingly complies with the letter and spirit of U.S. laws and policy for fair housing. This means all applicants are treated the same regardless of their race, national origin, religious faith, physical capability, marital status, and any number of other factors that can be used to categorize people.

RCHFH builds and sells the houses, and may hold the mortgages so even though a nonprofit, organization, we are required by law to comply with the same fair housing laws and policies as commercial builders, realtors, and mortgage lending companies.

It is the law, but as Christians, we also know it is the right thing to do—to treat everyone fairly and equally.

As part of the screening process, all our applicants are screened to be sure they are legal residents of Roane County for at least one year. Even if legal residents of a neighboring county, applicants are not eligible for a Habitat house in Roane County.

The basic application contains a list of documents that must be submitted to prove residency, as well as to help us to evaluate whether applicants meet our criteria and have potential to become successful homeowners.

As part of the screening process, each applicant—regardless of race, ethnicity or national origin—is required to produce identification in the form of a Tennessee driver’s license, voter registration card, or updated visa.

A variety of documents help establish residency and also help the Family Selection Committee to evaluate financial responsibility and personal reliability. Applicants must submit copies of two years’ Federal tax returns and produce Social Security cards for each member of the family. Social Security numbers are verified.

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How Do You Select Your Families?

Applications are solicited for Habitat housing. Signs are posted at a number of local businesses and announcements are made in the local newspapers. Notifications are posted on our web site www.roanehabitat.org and our Facebook page. A number of churches and other organizations are notified.

The application packets can be obtained from our web site, or by calling 865-376-5770, or by emailing a request to newhomeowners@roanehabitat.org. The packets include complete instructions, including a list of required background documents to help determine if the applicants meet the criteria and have potential to become successful homeowners.

Applicants are invited to complete the application form and to bring all required documents to a personal interview. The date, time, and location for the interviews are provided in the instructions.

Habitat's Family Selection Committee begins an in-depth screening process for those applicants that pass the preliminary screening. This process usually takes 60 to 90 days.

It should be noted that Roane County Habitat (RCHFH) for Humanity willingly complies with the letter and spirit of U.S. laws and policy for fair housing. This means all applicants are treated the same, regardless of their race, national origin, religious faith, physical capability, marital status, and any number of other factors that can be used to categorize people.

As part of the screening process, RCHFH makes sure all applicants have been legal residents of Roane County for at least one year. 

As part of the screening process, each applicant—regardless of race, ethnicity or national origin—is required to produce identification in the form of a Tennessee driver’s license, a voter registration card, or an updated visa.

A variety of documents help RCHFH to evaluate financial responsibility and personal reliability. Applicants must submit copies of the last two years of Federal tax returns and produce Social Security cards for each member of the family. Social Security numbers are verified.

Copies of pay stubs and other proof of steady income (such as Social Security, disability, or child support) are required to help RCHFH to evaluate the applicant’s ability to make house payments both now and over the 25 to 40-year term of the zero-interest mortgage. Almost all of applicants are currently employed full time, and we do contact their employer for verification.

Bank statements and utility bills are verified, and a credit check is done on each family. While a poor credit score doesn’t necessarily eliminate the applicant from consideration, it does give an idea of their financial history and ability to manage family finances.

All information that we collect from the applicant is held in strictest confidence and is only discussed among the Habitat Family Selection Committee and Board of Directors on a "need to know" basis.

The Family Selection Committee reviews and discusses each case individually. Teams of two people visit each applicant family in their current home to get to know them better and to take a look at their current housing situation.

After 60 - 90 days of screening and evaluations, the Family Selection Committee will recommend to the RCHFH Board of Directors which applicant families to accept into the program. Those families are then invited to partner with RCHFH and begin working their way to homeownership.

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How Do I Volunteer?

To volunteer to work or for more information, please contact Roane County Habitat:

Email: volunteer@roanehabitat.org

Office phone: (865) 376-5770

You don’t have to be a skilled craftsman to help build a Habitat house. Although skilled volunteers are needed in such tasks as rough framing, roofing, electrical, plumbing, painting, vinyl siding, and finish carpentry, unskilled volunteers willing to learn are also needed. Even if you’ve never held a hammer in your hand, we can teach you.

There are no “male” or “female” jobs with Habitat. In fact, nine houses using women volunteers almost exclusively have been built.

Volunteers must be at least 16 to work on the construction site, but there is no upper age limit. That is left to a volunteer's own discretion.

A long-term commitment is not required. “Precision scheduling” of volunteers is practiced so it's known exactly who is coming to work each day. A volunteer can commit for one day or for several days. It is important that volunteers take their commitment seriously and if they need to cancel, they do so in advance so a replacement volunteer can be found and scheduled.

There is plenty of work for everyone, including those with limited physical strength, those who are uncomfortable with heights, and those who can only contribute a few hours of their time. Some examples of tasks:

  •  Paint doors and woodwork. Touch up wall paint.
  •  Install door knobs and other trim. Caulk and fill nail holes.
  •  Clean house before our partner family moves in.
  •  Provide meals, snacks, and drinks for construction volunteers.
  •  Help with administrative tasks such as preparing newsletters for mailing, coordinating volunteers, keeping records, or writing thank you notes.
  •  Raise money for construction through your church, civic organization, employer, or other source.
  •  Donate materials and services that will reduce our cost of building a house.
  •  Invite Roane County Habitat for Humanity (RCHFH) to meet with your church; your civic, social, or professional organization; your employer; or other sources of volunteers, materials, or funds.
  •  Serve as a member of the board of directors, a committee member, or a sponsor for a partner family.

Do You Have An Age Limit?

Retirees who want to volunteer often ask, “Do you have an age limit?”

The short answer is, “Yes, you have to be at least 14 with a parent or guardian approval.”

Habitat volunteers—including construction volunteers—come in all sizes, shapes, and ages.

We don’t know who our oldest volunteer is, but we know there are a number of construction volunteers—both men and women—in their 80s. They help frame walls, install windows and doors, attach vinyl siding, and help with the painting and interior finish work.

Limitations are not placed on older volunteers. That is left up to the individual, their spouse, and their doctor.

All that said, there are official policies that place limits on what younger volunteers can do. Young people under 16 years of age can do limited work at the construction site. They can paint or help with other construction-related projects, but should not be on site when heavy construction is going on.

Volunteers who are 16 or 17 can do general construction but cannot do excavation, demolition, use power tools, work at heights above six feet, or do roofing. They can do general carpentry.

Anyone who is 18 or older can do any of the various construction jobs on the worksite.

Specific tasks for young people might be:


Task for under 14  
Prepare and serve food for volunteers  
Raise money to purchase building materials  
Collect gift basket items for a Habitat family (i.e. cleaning supplies, yard tools)  
Tasks for over 14 (includes the above tasks) Minimum Age
Paint doors and trim 14
Paint walls 14
Paint storage sheds 14
Final house cleaning 14
Wall insulation 14
Crawl space insulation


Caulk and touch-up paint 14
Help electricians pull wires through walls 14
Rough framing using only manual tools 16
Carry and place floor and roof trusses 16
Vinyl siding (no more than six feet above ground level) 16
Electrical wiring (outlets and receptacles, light fixtures, etc.) 16
Install doorknobs 16
Scaffolding set-up (first and second stories only) 16


Teens must always be supervised by an appropriate number of responsible, mature adults to ensure their presence is a help, not a hindrance, to the staff and other volunteers. Depending on the task, small groups may be more effective than a large group project. Anyone exhibiting careless, disrespectful, irresponsible, or dangerous behavior will be asked to leave the worksite.

Roane County Habitat for Humanity takes job site safety seriously. You may be asked to wear gloves, hard hat, safety glasses, or hearing protection depending upon the job you are doing. We will provide you with the safety equipment that you need. You will never be asked to perform a task that you may be uncomfortable performing.

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What Can Young Children do to help?

Children who volunteer develop socialization skills, learn valuable lessons about giving back, and are encouraged to be active participants as their church, club, or other organization works on a Habitat house. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity is a way for children to learn about the need for affordable housing in our community. It can be a reminder to them to recognize and remember what they have to be thankful for.

Habitat for Humanity insurance prohibits children younger than 14 from working on the construction site while construction is going on, sometimes making it a challenge to determine age-appropriate volunteer opportunities for young children. Consideration must be given to the children's interests and abilities, their attention span, the duration of an opportunity, their ability to follow directions, and the amount of adult guidance needed.

From time to time a Brownie troop will plant flowers or bake muffins for our volunteers. One summer, a pre-school class made sack lunches and brought them to the construction site. Construction was stopped and they were given a well-supervised tour of the house framework.

If a church or other organization is working on a Habitat home, the children can help with awareness and publicity. They can draw posters or hand out flyers or brochures after services or at other gatherings. They can create skits about what it means to live in inadequate housing.

Youth groups or Scout troops can host spaghetti suppers, chili cookoffs, rummage sales, or other fundraising activities. It may be helpful to set a fundraising goal by identifying how much it will cost Habitat to purchase a box of nails, a bathtub, a window, a set of roof trusses, etc.

Young people can also work on a "welcome home” gift for new Habitat homeowners by collecting or raising money to purchase one of the following:

Yard tools: Most Habitat families have not had a yard to care for and will need to buy the essentials as soon as they move in. Sprinklers, garden hose, outdoor trash cans with wheels, rakes, hand tools for gardening, etc., will be needed.

Decorations: Perhaps a wreath for the front door would be appreciated by the family. We have also seen children create a name plaque for each of the Habitat kids' bedrooms. The names could be painted on a plaque or perhaps wooden letters could be painted.

Cleaning basket: A collection of cleaning products would help a family. Items such as a laundry basket, paper towels, toilet paper, glass cleaner, cleaning sponges/rags, broom, and dust pan could be given.

Kitchen staples: Groups can help to stock the pantry with things like flour, sugar, salt, basic canned goods, or pasta.

Gift card: Items are always needed for new houses, so a gift card to Lowes or Walmart can be helpful and appreciated. (If wanted, Habitat families are responsible for purchasing ceiling fans. Habitat will install the fans as the house is finished.)

You might also be interested in checking out Habitat for Humanity's Youth Programs web site ( www.habitat.org/youthprograms/default.aspx ) featuring games, multimedia downloads, and an interactive web community.

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What Does It Mean To “Sponsor” a Home?

Sponsoring a Habitat for Humanity house is a great way for your organization to help our community while building teamwork and a sense of pride. Your sponsorship can include the following:

• volunteers to build the home

• funds to purchase construction materials and services

• donations of construction materials or professional services

• hospitality services such as snacks, drinks, and lunches for volunteers

• mentoring a Habitat family

• publicity within your organization and your community

A full sponsorship includes providing enough money and volunteers to build the entire house. Partial sponsorships involve sharing tasks and funding with another organization or with Roane County Habitat for Humanity (RCHFH). RCHFH can help you or your organization find the right level of sponsorship to fit your capability and interests.

The Construction Director will supervise the overall construction of the house. You may provide skilled crew leaders, or RCHFH can recruit from our team of experienced volunteers. Both skilled and unskilled volunteers are welcome, and we provide training as needed. Your volunteers with physical limitations can help with painting, detailed finish work, hospitality services, or administrative tasks. They can work in our Home Store to raise additional funds or can help prepare our Habitat families for home ownership.

RCHFH will help you plan the work schedule to meet the needs and availability of your volunteers, including working on Saturdays and holidays. We can tell you how many volunteers are needed each day and help to organize and recruit your work crews. RCHFH provides house plans and tools and arranges for delivery of all construction materials and subcontractor services.

The excitement builds as co-workers from different departments, supervisors and employees, committee members, church members, and family members work together, learn together, sweat together, and see immediate, tangible results as the house takes form. They know they are changing lives and improving their community. What greater legacy can your organization leave?

For more information, call our office 865-376-5770.

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How Much Does a Habitat House Cost?

The purchase price of a Habitat for Humanity home in Roane County is based on the appraised value of the home at completion. This varies depending upon the number of bedrooms and size of the lot. The purchase price includes the cost of land, infrastructure, materials, and professional subcontractors’ labor for systems that can not be installed by volunteers.

Do the Families Have to Pay for Their Homes?

Habitat for Humanity provides a hand up, not a handout. Habitat does not give homes away for free. Each partner family agrees to make a monthly mortgage payment for the life of their loan. What makes their payment unique is that they are paying an affordable interest rate, which helps to lower their monthly payment. All the money that is paid toward the mortgage builds equity in their home while enabling Habitat to help another family in need in Roane County.

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What is a “Simple, Decent, Affordable” House?

Not too long ago there was a house in Knoxville advertised for sale for $40 million. The 44,500-square-foot mansion has 49 rooms, 16 bathrooms, 11 fireplaces, and a six-car garage. The white marble patio is 100 feet wide. A friend of the owner reported his enjoyment at watching the butlers (note the plural) feed the 150 or so goldfish in the pond. The house was built and appointed by expert craftsmen and boasts a ceiling mural in the large foyer, as well as a winding staircase right out of “Gone With the Wind.”

Not too long ago there was a house in Harriman that sold for $100,000. It’s a cozy 1,056-square-foot home with 3 bedrooms, one bath, and a kitchen-dining-living room area. The house was built by volunteers of varying skill levels using basic building materials. The kitchen boasts cabinets right out of a box from Lowes and appliances donated by Whirlpool. The owner painted the plastic mailbox blue to match the shutters. This house was a Habitat built house.

Habitat for Humanity builds simple, decent, affordable, “no frills” houses. But we have found that—like beauty—“frills” are in the eyes of the beholder.

Habitat for Humanity has always had a policy of keeping house designs simple so as to use the minimum amount of building materials that is reasonable. But, as prices for homes, land, and building materials have skyrocketed, Habitat has become even more conscious of what “no frills” really means.

New volunteers are sometimes surprised that we don’t build garages, or that we don’t provide dishwashers or garbage disposals for Roane County Habitat for Humanity (RCHFH) homes. These are on the official list of “frills” discouraged by Habitat for Humanity International.

For us, it just makes sense not to build garages. First, most of the lots we build on are too small for a garage. Second, the cost of adding a garage would make the house unaffordable to some of our families who are already watching pennies to cover food, shelter, and other bare necessities.

Most of us grew up in homes where the kids did the dishes after the evening meal. Taking out the garbage meant bagging the garbage and walking out to a barrel in the back yard. This was just a part of everyday life that taught children the value of teamwork and the responsibility of being part of a family. These days we have grown accustomed to having a dishwasher. Flipping the switch on the garbage disposal has become almost a reflex as we clean the dinner dishes. But these are also frills.

So why do some of our Habitat houses have dishwashers despite the “no frills” guidelines? Sometimes a relative or an organization that sponsors their house purchases a dishwasher for the family, or the family has scraped together enough money to buy a basic dishwasher themselves. In these cases the kitchen cabinets will be designed with a space for the dishwasher, and the Habitat plumbing subcontractor will install it for no additional charge.

Ceiling fans are another frill that is not provided by Habitat. As we work with our partner families to design their houses, they get the option to purchase their own ceiling fans instead of using the generic ceiling light fixtures we would otherwise install. If the family chooses ceiling fans, our team of electrical volunteers will install them to make sure they are wired safely and correctly and that they will pass the electrical inspection.

Most of the homes we build are beautifully landscaped—some include rock borders, medium-sized trees, and steppingstones. Many times that Roane County Master Gardners will volunteer their time and donate plants and bushes as they teach the family how to care for their yards and gardens.

Our Habitat homes are well built and well loved. They may not be worth $40 million to a realtor, but in the eyes and hearts of our new homeowners, they’re priceless.

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What is a “Support” Family?

Holly Warlick and Donnie Tyndall work hard to coach their teams to victory. They help young basketball players develop their natural abilities, learn new skills, gain self-confidence, and learn what it takes to become successful. The coaches get to know their players, both on the court and off. They know when to be gentle and supportive, and they know when to point out the hard realities of life.

Somewhere along the way, the players learn to trust their own judgment, work as a team toward the common goal, and also give back to the community. Years later, they can look back on their college basketball days and say, “My coach made all the difference. I couldn’t have done it alone.”

It doesn’t take an award-winning professional coach to help prospective Habitat homeowners change their lives. But Roane County Habitat for Humanity does assign mentors—known as “support families”—who use a simple formula: encourage them, coach them, and be a friend.

For Habitat families, the search for adequate shelter is a nightmare. Habitat families are low-income working couples or single parents who find it impossible to afford adequate housing through any conventional means. They may be living in public housing, in the unheated attic of a relative’s house, or in a cramped apartment with leaking plumbing and mildew that makes their child chronically ill. A family of eight may be living in a two-bedroom mobile home because that’s all they can afford.

Just the thought of living in a simple, decent, affordable, energy-efficient house or apartment is an impossible dream—because of current income, past mistakes, or family circumstances beyond their control. Owning their own home is beyond imagination.

But they are willing to work 500 hours of “sweat equity,” save money for their closing costs, and participate in educational workshops to help them prepare for homeownership through Habitat.

When it just gets to be overwhelming, when those sweat equity hours don’t seem to be adding up fast enough, or the thought of signing a 25-year interest-free mortgage is too scary, the support family can be their key to success.

Usually once each year, Roane County Habitat accepts applications for housing from hopeful families. These families are diverse in almost every way possible. There are married couples, single moms, single dads, grandparents, and couples without children. There are Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, and Caucasians with a wide variety of employment situations. Some have physical, mental, or emotional issues; some have limited education.

As our Family Selection Committee reviews the applicants, checks their background documentation, and visits them in their current homes, they will select maybe 6 - 10 families who meet Habitat criteria and are candidates for homeownership.

At this point, the diversity of the families will be less significant than what they have in common: they’re currently in a low-income status, currently living in deplorable housing, and unable to find adequate housing. They’re also highly motivated to do whatever they can to improve their family’s lifestyle. They just need the opportunity—and a coach.

As “support families.” A support family may be either a married couple or an individual. They just need to be dedicated to seeing their family succeed as they make the transition to home ownership. They offer support, advocacy, and friendship. It would be helpful to have several support families who speak Spanish.

Habitat’s Family Support Committee will provide training for the support families and a manual that outlines Habitat procedures and guidelines for the families working toward homeownership.

We like to start identifying support families early each year so we’re sure we have enough for each of our new Habitat families when they’re ready.

Habitat doesn’t need professional coaches, but we do need you. Call the Roane County Habitat office at (865) 376-5770 to find how you can help change lives.

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What is a “Partner” Family?

A partner family is an individual or family that has made it through the selection process and has been approved by the board of directors. They are selected using the criteria of displaying a need for adequate housing, the ability to pay a monthly mortgage payment, and the willingness to partner with us.

How Many Mortgages Have You Had to Foreclose On?

Mortgage foreclosures are in the news these days. They are making headlines in newspapers and magazines, radio and TV, and becoming a hot topic for political debate. Average Americans are learning more than they ever wanted to know about the “sub-prime” mortgage market and the potential impact of the mortgage upheaval on the U.S. economy.

For the past 22 years in Roane County, Habitat for Humanity has built simple, decent, affordable homes in partnership with 33 low-income families. Once a home is completed, the family signs a no-interest mortgage to reimburse Habitat for the cost of land, infrastructure, building materials, and subcontractors’ labor.

We try our best to help the family keep their home and pay off their mortgage. But unforeseen issues do arise and sometimes the families can no longer afford their home. It does not happen often, but it does happen.

The families who buy these homes are working in low-income jobs. Many have had misfortune in their lives--either self-imposed or through circumstances beyond their control. Some are lacking in formal education; some have credit problems; some have had health or lifestyle issues that now limit their earning ability or have created excessive family debt. All are trying hard to overcome adverse circumstances and are willing to do whatever is needed to improve their lives.

Whatever the cause of their current situation, they are the target market for sub-prime interest mortgages and predatory lenders.

So, what makes the Habitat program work when record numbers of homeowners across the U.S. are now facing a real possibility of losing their homes?

In this case, the old adage applies: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The initial screening of applicants ensures that only those families are selected who are able to afford the monthly house payments of approximately $300.

Habitat selects families who are motivated to “partner” with Habitat to earn their homes. A single-adult family must work 400 hours of “sweat equity;” a two-adult family, 500 hours. This hands-on physical labor requires a serious level of dedication over a period of time that averages about 18 months.

Each family is required to participate in a series of workshops that help educate them about what it means to be a homeowner, how to manage family finances, how to make basic home repairs, and how to take care of a yard. In these classes, they learn to make informed decisions about the use of credit and the importance of a credit rating, as well as setting priorities for family spending.

Each partner family is assigned a support family—a family from the local community who makes a commitment to mentor, coach, and befriend the partner family as they work toward homeownership, and then to remain in close contact with them for at least one year after they move into their Habitat home. These support families can become a valuable resource and sounding board if the Habitat partner family runs into difficulty.

But despite all this education, experience, and support sometimes a Habitat homeowner does fall behind in their mortgage payments.

Roane County Habitat uses a professional, non-profit, mortgage servicing company to collect each families' monthly mortgage payment. Each month they receive the payments and make note of any that are delinquent. They send out late notices, adding a late fee to the basic payment.

If payment is not received after an appropriate time, the Habitat family receives additional notices or phone calls. Roane County Habitat will set up a meeting with the Habitat family to discuss the reason for the slow payments, to review the importance of the credit report, and to work out a mutually agreeable plan to bring payments up to date.

Most often, the payment is late because of a minor issue that is soon resolved. Occasionally, the delinquency is because of loss of a job, a family illness, or other cause that may take longer to work through.

It is possible the Habitat Board of Directors could make a decision to begin foreclosure action by sending a legal notice to the delinquent homeowner. This decision would come after a very detailed discussion and much prayer. The Board must balance its moral obligation as a Christian ministry with its mandate of good stewardship of the money and labor donated by our many supporters and benefactors.

If foreclosure is enforced it is sad for both the homeowner and Roane County Habitat. But it will come with the heartfelt belief that we have done everything we can do to help the homeowner resolve the situation, and that the most difficult decision we have ever had to make will ultimately be the one that enables our housing ministry to continue to help other families in need of adequate shelter.

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Where Do You Get Your Money?

Roane County Habitat gets most of its money from mortgage payments, and the remaining portion comes from your generous donations.

Please continue to give.

How do I donate to Habitat?

Donations made to Roane County Habitat for Humanity are used to directly support the efforts of our organization to build houses in Roane County, Tennessee. If you would like to support the worldwide mission of providing decent housing, you can donate to Habitat International.

Donate Money.  Donate Materials.

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Does Habitat Offer Working Vacations Similar to Church Mission Trips?

Vacations are times to relax, to re-energize, and to restore one's sense of self. Vacations are so important to productivity that some major corporations have “use it or lose it” policies or require their key employees to take time off to “get away from it all.”

So why would anyone voluntarily take a “working vacation?”

Leisure travel has its appeal, but when you’re looking for just a little more, a working vacation can provide a sense of adventure and fulfillment not possible on that two-week bus tour of Europe or that sun-drenched beach in Mexico. A working vacation can combine travel with community outreach—a chance to immerse in a different culture and to experience things the typical tourist doesn’t.

Habitat for Humanity has affiliates across the U.S. and in 100 countries around the world, including such exotic locations as Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. Many of them offer short-term volunteer opportunities through the Global Village program.

These organized one- or two-week trips balance work on Habitat houses with rest and free time. Most teams spend a few days visiting local historic sites or attractions, or participating in outdoor activities such as safaris, hikes in the mountains or rain forests, or kayaking. Volunteers work side-by-side with the local people and get to know them and their culture on a personal basis. Global Village trips are also available across the U.S. and in Alaska and Hawaii.

Don’t let your lack of construction experience stop you. The Global Village teams and most Habitat affiliates have leaders who are skilled in both the task at hand and in coaching new volunteers.

You can be as remote and primitive as you like, or you can stick to the familiar language and culture of the U.S with only the scenery changed.

To plan your working vacation, visit www.habitat.org and click on “Get Involved.” You’ll find information about Global Village trips as well as opportunities for RV-ers to volunteer while traveling, spring break trips for college students, and special projects at various Habitat affiliates across the U.S.

If none of those fits your interests or your schedule, select “Volunteer Locally” and type in the location you want to visit. Contact that Habitat affiliate directly and see what you can work out.

This is also a good way to help your relatives and friends fit a working vacation into a visit to your house in East Tennessee.

As an example, Loudon County Habitat was fortunate a few summers ago to host a work team from a Jewish temple in New Jersey. Their 20-plus members included schoolteachers, lawyers, engineers, and other professional people who joined with members of Temple Beth El in Knoxville. All of the volunteers had planned their summer vacations around building a Habitat house in Lenoir City. It turned out to be the hottest week of the summer, but it was also a fascinating mix of New Jersey and East Tennessee dialects, kosher and Southern-fried foods, and the joining of voices to sing a Hebrew prayer to the tune of “Rocky Top.”

Working vacations offer a refreshing opportunity to help improve the lives of others while getting an up-close-and-personal experience not available to most tourists. If you’ve “been there, done that” in all the typical tourist places, why not try something different next time?

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What is “Inadequate” Housing?

People are curious. Before they give us their support, our volunteers and donors often want to know, “How do you pick your families?” Habitat for Humanity uses three criteria when evaluating families for its housing ministry:

1) Need

2) Ability to pay

3) Willingness to partner with Habitat

The second and third criteria are relatively easy. Just refer to an official chart to determine whether the income is “low” but still enough to make the house payments. Then, keep track of the “sweat equity” hours the family works, and check off the list when they attend their educational workshops and meet other requirements.

But determining “need” requires making a judgment call. We will consider a family for a Habitat home only if they are currently living in inadequate housing and unable to obtain adequate housing through conventional means.

To many of us, “inadequate housing” would mean a three-bedroom, 1,056-square-foot house with only one bathroom. Or it means having only a one-car garage, or a master bedroom that’s merely 10 feet by 12 feet with a closet you can’t walk into.

But let’s get serious. What is “inadequate housing?” Habitat’s definition includes, but is not limited to, lack of structural integrity; violations of existing building codes as they pertain to plumbing, electrical systems, heating and cooling systems; or eminent threat of property condemnation.

Here are some descriptions taken from the home visits of Roane County families recently accepted into the Habitat program:

Family #1 – A family of four shares a small home with a relative’s family. The family sleeps in the attic; the parents on a mattress and the children on pallets of cushions. Access to the attic is a steep staircase with no handrails or lighting.

Family #2 – A mother and son reside in an old singlewide mobile home infested with termites and with serious mold and mildew damage. The back door has no steps, leaving a 5-foot dropoff. The heating and air system works erratically and there are plumbing problems. The family pays $400 a month rent.

Family #3 – A family of eight lives in a two-bedroom, one-bath older mobile home. They rotate sleeping arrangements among the two bedrooms, a couch, and a bed in the living room. The bathroom floor is squishy; there are severe mold and mildew problems, and the stove short circuits. This family pays rent of $350 per month.

“Inadequate” is so . . . well . . . inadequate to describe these living conditions. Maybe “appalling” would be more accurate. Or “deplorable.” It’s easy to see that these people need better places to live.

So why don’t these families just move into better housing? How do we know they’re “unable to obtain adequate housing by any other means?”

Another measurement we use is the “overabundance of housing cost burden,” an official term that means the cost of housing exceeds 30 percent of the household income. According to the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) the burden is “moderate” if less than 50 percent, and “severe” if more than 50 percent of income. Again, this is fairly easy to determine by working the math: compare the family income to the rent and utilities they’re paying.

So, even if comfortable, structurally sound housing is available, if the cost of that housing exceeds 30 percent of the family’s income, it’s considered “inadequate” for that family. A statistical sample taken from the 2000 census reports 835 families in Roane County paid 30 percent or more of their household income for rent.

Each year the East Tennessee Development District (ETDD) surveys its counties to determine the average rent and vacancy rate. According to the 2005 ETDD survey, the average monthly rent in Roane County was $482 that year. For a three-bedroom apartment, the average rent was $497.

But here, another factor slips into play—the availability of rental housing. In the 2005 ETDD survey, Roane County reported an overall vacancy rate of 3.5 percent in its apartment stock. According to ETDD, “it is generally accepted that there should be at least a 5-percent vacancy rate in order to allow people an adequate selection of housing.” Keep in mind that this is availability of “apartment stock” in all price ranges, not just in the price range that our low-income families can afford.

Numbers and statistics have a tendency to cloud the mind, and sometimes cloud the issue. What do all these facts really mean?

Charles missed work often because of frequent severe headaches caused by the extreme mold and mildew damage in the small house his family lived in.

Michelle hurt her leg when she fell through the rotted floor of her family’s singlewide mobile home.

And then, there are the children. Bradley’s “bedroom” was a closet. Baby Brayden wasn’t allowed to crawl on the floor because his family lived in the basement of his grandparents’ home and the basement had a cold concrete floor. Deanne and her mom slept on Granny’s hide-a-bed and her younger brother lived close-by with another relative.

Each of these five families is now living in a simple, decent, affordable, energy-efficient home built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity volunteers. Each of these families is making house payments of approximately $300 on a 20-year, no-interest, no-profit mortgage. Each of these families is living in that house described earlier that most of us would consider “inadequate”— that three-bedroom, 1,056-square-foot house with only one bathroom, a master bedroom that’s merely 10 feet by 12 feet with a closet you can’t walk into. And each of these families is now thriving.

 "These FAQ pages were provided with the help of Loudon County Habitat for Humanity."

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