There’s no place like… : Habitat for Humanity has three new houses in Cortez to provide to families

Habitat for Humanity has three new houses in Cortez to provide to families


These are two of the three Habitat for Humanity homes awaiting new families. Anyone interested in applying for them must attend one of three meetings to be held in March in Cortez, Mancos, and Dolores. Photo by David Long.

Anyone who’s taken a Psych 101 course has probably been introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, usually illustrated as a pyramid, with the apex representing self-actualization, the most desirable status attained by only a small portion of us humans.

But at the base of the pyramid are those needs that must be met before any others – including love, friendship and self-respect – can even be pursued.

And, of course, shelter – a roof over our heads and a place to rest them when weary – is right there along with food, water and air.

The idea of a family being without decent housing in the world’s wealthiest nation can be seen as an aberration, something easily dismissed as the breadwinners’ own fault – a direct result of sloth or other character flaws. But this is often no truer than most mindless clichés.

Fortunately, there are also folks who understand that when someone lacks a stable home with adequate amenities, it makes attaining any other goals much more difficult.

Habitat for Humanity of Montezuma County, a non-profit group consisting largely of volunteers, is dedicated to helping families with substandard housing help themselves in acquiring better accommodations or making improvements on their existing residences.

And the emphasis is definitely on families helping themselves, according to program director Barbara Stagg, recently hired to oversee the process through which applicants are recruited and vetted, after which Habitat’s board of directors chooses deserving families. She said in her 30 years of working with non-profits, this board is “much more hands-on” than any other she’s dealt with.

Board member Greg Kemp recalled that getting the local group accepted as part of the international Habitat organization, which became well-known worldwide through the participation of such luminaries as former President Jimmy Carter, meant traveling a long and winding road that took over two years, and included the efforts of the late Henry Cone, who along with board member Mitchell Toms had served on Habitat boards in other states.

Kemp said the satisfaction he gets from his involvement is twofold.

“Quite frankly, I enjoy home-improvement work,” Kemp said, “and being able to assist those who either cannot do it or can’t afford to hire someone to do it is very satisfying.” And sprucing up a run-down house make the whole neighborhood spiffier.

The fledgling program, which got its official blessing in 2008, has grown its revenues by opening a thrift store on South Broadway two years ago (66786 S. Highway 160/491), the brilliant blue building next to Belt Salvage. A vast variety of donated goods – furniture, books, large and small appliances and building materials and hardware – is available there, an ideal place to find that window, plumbing fitting, odd screw, or hard-to-find part for your own building project.

Stagg said the Habitat program is not a giveaway program where someone is handed the front-door key to a new or restored home and told “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Birthday.”

Low-income families who qualify by passing a rigorous background check and demonstrating the means to make monthly mortgage payments are offered a chance to do just that. However, such families generally would not meet a bank’s standards to qualify for a mortgage and aren’t required to make a cash down payment such as a for-profit lending institution would require.

But wait, that isn’t all! as they say on late-night TV ads.

As well as making monthly payments on their homes, those chosen must invest up to 400 hours of “sweat equity” by actually doing some of the building – on their own house or another that is part of the program.

That could include anything from painting the interior, finishing its floors, scrunching into a crawl space and wrestling with wires or pipes, or any sort of manual labor that completing construction on a home requires.

Stagg stressed that the definition of “family” is not confined to the traditional husband/wife/2.3 kids.

“All income-eligible Montezuma County residents can apply for Habitat’s programs.” Stagg said, “regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, age, sex, disability or family status.” In other words, minorities, including gay and lesbian couples with children, along with older couples with a disabled adult son or daughter, immigrants or any stable group of people living together as a family unit, are eligible for consideration.

Applicants must be of good moral character and show the ability to meet the monthly mortgage payments, which include no interest.

Annual household income to qualify for the home-purchasing program ranges from just under $20,000 to a little over $30,000 for a family of three and gradually increases according to family size.

At last, Habitat is now ready to provide three new houses in Cortez to families chosen from those who attend one of three upcoming meetings and participate in the selection process. The homes have finished exteriors, and the plumbing and wiring are mostly installed, although there is still some interior work needed to make these cozy if modest (1300 square feet or so) dwellings into places to sink roots from which all sorts of good things can grow.

Stagg emphasized that anyone interested in participating must attend one of the three meetings to be held this month in Cortez, Mancos, and Dolores. Only those who attend the entire information sessions will receive applications.

The locations, times and dates of those meetings are:

  • Dolores – Monday, March 16, at 6 p.m., Dolores Public Library at 1002 Railroad
  • Cortez – Tuesday, March 17, at 6 p.m. at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, 110 W. North St. (Free child care is available for this meeting.)
  • Mancos — Monday, March 23, at 6 p.m., Mancos Public Library, 211 W. First St.

Attendees must be signed in by 6:15 p.m. and stay for the entire 90-minute session.

Along with work on the new and rehabilitated residences for those chosen to participate in the program, Habitat also performs minor exterior repairs on the homes of the infirm and elderly, or other people unable to effect such improvements themselves – a program aptly named a Brush of Kindness.

Donors and volunteers are definitely needed to help Habitat. Donations can include money (100 percent goes to the mission), building materials, tools, furniture and fixtures, household decor items, antiques and collectibles. Bring donated items to the Habitat Sales Center on South Broadway.

Volunteers are needed to staff the sales center Wednesdays through Saturdays. Volunteers are also needed for hands-on help for “A Brush With Kindness Projects” and for rehab on unused houses in Montezuma County.

Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation, or who wants to apply for a Habitat home, should contact Stagg, 970-565-8312, office@habitatmontezuma. org.

From March 2015.