New Mission for Habitat: A Roof Plus Financial Literacy Skills to Keep it
By Jeanne Doran
July 27, 2017
Siding and roofing a house isn’t the only way to help underprivileged families in the Habitat for Humanity program. A favorite of President Jimmy Carter that operates in 1,400 communities in 70 nations, Habitat now promotes financial literacy too—in part, so that new homeowners can really get ahead.
It makes sense. Habitat’s overriding goal is to bring people together to build homes for individuals who cannot afford it on their own. Often, these people lack the financial understanding needed to finance a home—including how to save and the importance of their credit score.
In Mississippi, which ranks at the very bottom of state financial literacy rankings, a growing number of Habitat financial education programs not only take aim at mortgages and home ownership expenses like insurance and upkeep—but also examine broader aspects of money management to try to ease the state’s high levels of poverty.
“When it comes to poverty, we rank number one in the country,” Mississippi Treasurer Lynn Fitch recently toldThe Dispatch. “That’s not a coincidence. Financial education gives Mississippians the tools to be empowered by their money and reach their goals, including home ownership and higher education. Financial education has been one of my top priorities.”
In Columbus-Lowndes County, the local Habitat recently launched its first six-week financial literacy program called Financial Foundations. Classes are free, and while they’re targeted to potential Habitat recipients anyone can attend. Local bankers and lenders lead the classes covering a broad range of financial subjects. Typically, the last session deals with homeownership.
Kathy Arinder, executive director of the Columbus-Lowndes Habitat program, has said that for every 25 applicants only one is mortgage ready. “They have no understanding of how money and debt work,” she told The Dispatch. “Habitat doesn’t give people houses; we help them become homeowners.”
Arinder’s program is a pilot of sorts. When the state’s 22 affiliated Habitat organizations next meet developing a uniform financial literacy program for all Habitat locations will be on the agenda. Habitat, with its global reach and wide acceptance, may ultimately find its greatest achievement is not only putting a roof over peoples’ heads—but also provide a more enduring path out of poverty.