The Houses That Congress Built: Realtors® Show the Way on Affordable Housing Program

Habitat for Humanity effort is bringing together diverse groups in creative ways in more than 150 communities throughout the country.

August 1, 1998

When is a house more than a house? When a community pitches in to build it for someone in need.

That’s what’s happening in more than 150 communities participating in “The Houses That Congress Built” effort this year.

From Buffalo, N.Y., to St. Paul, Minn., from Holland, Mich., to Jacksonville, Fla., REALTORS® are pitching in their time and money for the project, whose aim is to build a house in every congressional district by year's end. NAR is one of more than 30 housing organizations in the National Partners in Homeownership, which is joining in this effort with the U.S. House of Representatives and Habitat for Humanity.

REALTORS® are not only physically building the houses but also energizing the effort with creative ways of raising funds and drawing media attention.

Says NAR President R. Layne Morrill: “I'm delighted in the way REALTORS® have enthusiastically joined in the effort to build affordable homes in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and our lawmakers in Washington. It shows the country that REALTORS® are committed to make homeownership a reality for all Americans who dream of owning a home.”

A building project in St. Paul is an excellent example of what “The Houses That Congress Built” effort is meant to accomplish, says Missy Thompson, owner of Thompson Associates, a local realty company.

Through a multitude of sponsors, including REALTORS®, Freddie Mac, 13 local churches, and local building companies, as well as the support of Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., the funds, materials, and labor were pulled together to rebuild a six-unit row house.

Thompson says the community effort is “paving the way for revitalization to happen here.”

At the opening of the renovation project in St. Paul earlier this summer, Vento praised REALTORS®’ community involvement. “Many people in our society are not able to own a home,” he said. “REALTORS® are filling a tremendous role in impacting these affordable housing projects.”

“Affordable housing to a lot of people does not exist,” says Santiago Vego, a retired veteran living on a pension and future homeowner of one of the unfinished St. Paul row houses. “They don’t see it. I wouldn't be here now without Habitat for Humanity of the Twin Cities.”

In Jacksonville, Fla., REALTORS® raised funds for “The Houses That Congress Built” in their district.

“I sent a letter to members of our Achievers Club asking them to write a check for $40—the cost to build 1 square foot of the house,” says Catherine B. Whatley, a REALTOR® with Buck and Buck Inc. of Jacksonville. “It worked. Checks came pouring in, and we helped raise a substantial portion of the $40,000 needed to build the whole house.”

REALTORS® in Michigan also came up with a creative way to raise funds for their house. The Holland Board invited Rep. Pete Hoekstra, D-Mich., to be the guest of honor at a benefit dinner and auction.

In Hartford, Conn., REALTORS® and sponsors were aided in their physical labor by candidates in an upcoming district election.

“We wanted local partnerships to form through this effort to build a house for a low-income family,” says Robert J. Kennedy, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of REALTORS®. “When I saw the diversity of the sponsors and lawmakers working on the site, I knew we had made it happen.”

In Buffalo, N.Y., Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., joined REALTORS®, other sponsors, and future homeowner James Singletary.

“With more than one-third of American families not currently owning a home, there is clearly still a great deal of work to be done,” says Quinn. “It’s great to see so many volunteers working together to help Mr. Singletary realize his dream.”

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