MATTHEWS – Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity has provided affordable homes for hardworking families in the community for 30 years. But leaders say the nonprofit is only part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis.
Natisha Rivera-Patrick, president and CEO of Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity, said the nonprofit is the only entity building affordable housing options in the area. As the nonprofit celebrates 30 years, she hopes to include other entities in the solution.
Rivera-Patrick said Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity’s board of directors has started to build a strategic plan, the first one she has seen in her two and a half years in the role. She said the board is looking at what is working, what can be improved and what partners they can bring in to help.
“The affordable housing issue is not going away anytime soon,” Rivera-Patrick said. “In a town like Matthews, where it’s perceived to be very wealthy, I think it was surprising when they did a study to find out that there are 3,000 households in Matthews that are either at poverty or below. So, how do we help address that and make sure that people who are working have a place to live?”
Rivera-Patrick said there are challenges when it comes to finding a solution to the crisis, but the Town of Matthews has been a “great partner” as an entity.
“What our largest challenge is, as with anyone that’s wanting to build here, is land,” Rivera-Patrick said. “Not only the availability of land, but the cost of available lots. We’re working with other entities and see how we can partner and go to the town with some ready-made solutions. We’re looking at what we can do collectively to come up with solutions even outside of Habitat because we’re just one piece.”
The rising cost of land has prompted the organization to rethink its process to provide affordable housing.
“We will be looking at purchasing tax sales, foreclosures and working to rehab these properties in order to rehome families,” Rivera-Patrick said.
Along with looking at how to solve the crisis from a building perspective, Rivera-Patrick said the organization has also identified a need for critical home repair in affordable homes. She said the people who lived there were unable to afford to repair necessary things to keep them safer, drier and warmer. Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity started a program to repair these in their homes so that families there do not get displaced, and they hope to expand the program.
Rivera-Patrick also said the nonprofit hopes to educate the community about affordable housing as there is a negative stigma around those who own affordable homes.
One part of the education process is clarifying that the nonprofit does not “give away homes.” Rivera-Patrick said they serve as a bank for the homes, and there are several requirements, from debt-to-income ratio to positive rental history.
“When you think about these families that are coming into your neighborhood, they’re vetted far beyond who might be buying a house next door to you,” Rivera-Patrick said. “So you’re getting a quality neighbor who is invested in their home and invested in their community already coming in the door.”
Rivera-Patrick said Greater Matthews Habitat for Humanity has closed four homes since she started working there. She said when she started, there were 11 families waiting to get a home, and she is inspired by their tenacity.
“The fact that they had stuck it out and stuck with the program, hanging on to hope that this is actually going to happen, it’s been great to watch them actually realize the dream of having those keys handed over to them,” Rivera-Patrick said.
Rivera-Patrick said many who work in Matthews cannot afford to live in Matthews, but there is more to the problem than affordable housing opportunities.
“These are people that are working who can’t afford even a one-bedroom apartment,” she said. “Wages have not kept up with housing costs. Until we fix the wage issue, housing will always be unaffordable or unattainable.”