A dozen Pratt area residents edged a bit closer to establishing a local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity Monday evening by agreeing to lend their efforts for now to the Wichita affiliate’s plans to build as many as 20 low-income homes in tornado-stricken Greensburg over the next two years.


    A dozen Pratt area residents edged a bit closer to establishing a local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity Monday evening by agreeing to lend their efforts for now to the Wichita affiliate’s plans to build as many as 20 low-income homes in tornado-stricken Greensburg over the next two years.
   “We need to start out as a chapter under the Wichita affiliate to learn the ropes,” Dean Fitzsimmons told the group early in the meeting.  “I don’t see how we can get it (a local affiliate) up and running without being under Sedgwick County first.
   “We stand a good chance of being ready to go for our own affiliate after helping them in Greensburg for two years.  But if we’re not ready then, we’re just out our effort, and we’ve done some good in Greensburg in the meantime.  But right now we need to focus on what we can do in Greensburg.”
   Elder Ratliff, a retired general contractor currently working in the Pratt area until July as a missionary with the Mormon Church, agreed with Fitzsimmons, saying, “Going with Habitat is the best route since Greensburg and Habitat are huge draws and money will come in for that.  We can go about getting set up (as an affiliate later) that way.”
   Serving again as moderator of the meeting, South Central Community Foundation (SCCF) director Denise Unruh pointed out her understanding from having talked with Wichita Habitat affiliate director Linda Stewart that once formed, a Pratt affiliate would be in position to assume the mortgages that will have been set up in connection with the houses that will have been erected in Greensburg.
   “Wichita has committed two years to Greensburg,” Unruh said.  “If Pratt has an affiliate ready to go by that time they’ll turn the mortgages over to us.”
   Unruh had earlier pointed out a unique aspect of Habitat for Humanity is that of being its “own mortgage lender,” in the sense that “payments (from the new homeowners) come back to them (Habitat).
   “That’s the nice thing about being a local affiliate,” she continued.  “After you’ve built 10 homes you’ll have a nice flow of income coming in.”
   Unruh had earlier reviewed the basic operations of Habitat, such as a thoroughgoing screening process to find qualifying families.  Only residents making no more than 60 percent of the local median income can be considered.
    The typical cost of a home runs around $65,000, the typical cost of materials.  Labor is typically donated.  Raising the initial $65,000 for materials for the first house put up by an affiliate is one of the more daunting startup tasks.
   In addition to the $65,000 in material expense the new homeowner owes the local affiliate, a $20,000 surcharge is added, one-fourth of which is forgiven for every five years the family lives in the home.  The progressive forgiveness of debt is, of course, meant to encourage the new owners to occupy the home at least 20 years, by which time their $65,000 no-interest mortgage would be retired.  Or, as Unruh phrased it, “That’s meant to discourage transient behavior amongst new homeowners.”
   A question to which Unruh kept returning throughout the meeting was whether the group thought the low-income housing need in Pratt is great enough to pursue a Habitat affiliate.  She also asked, “Do we have the assets here in Pratt County to raise $65,000 to do a house a year at first (once affiliate status is achieved)?”
   While local attorney Alan Hanson said he thinks “there’s financial resources in the area to get the program going,” Jodi Drake said she had “concerns” over whether such a fund raising effort could be pulled off.
   No one, however, questioned the need for what a local affiliate could accomplish, Hanson saying, “There’s definitely a need for good, low-income housing here in Pratt County.   You ought to see what some people are living in.”
   Unruh, meanwhile, stressed the need to move ahead with plans to aid Wichita’s efforts in Greensburg, saying there’s “probably $100,000” in funds SCCF is holding for use in Kiowa County that could be used to aid Habitat efforts there.  “But we’ve got to speak for it pretty soon because we’re getting funding requests all the time,” she said.  “So we need to know if we’re going to do this before it’s gone.”
   Toward that end, three of the individuals present Monday committed to serve in key spots of a typical Habitat organizational tree as local agents of the Wichita effort in Greensburg.
   Saying he’s had “some college electrical courses,” as well as experience in “plumbing, roofing and hanging sheet rock,” Richard Bare volunteered to fill the key role of local project manager.  In addition, Julie Bohn offered to chair the Family Selection Committee, while Brandon Case—a case manager with the Iroquois Center for Human Development in Greensburg—said he would serve with Bohn in that capacity.
   The group committed to meet for a fourth time on Monday, December 10, 7 p.m. again at the Riney Center on the PCC campus.