For Amanda Piper and her daughter, Grace, age 6, 2020 will hold memories of more than just a pandemic. This year they are celebrating their first Christmas in their own home near downtown Greenville. Piper is so grateful to Habitat for Humanity for helping them get there that she’s become a passionate advocate for the nonprofit and its unique blend of assistance and empowerment.
Three years ago, Piper was a single parent working in food service at Bob Jones University, splitting the $1,000 rent for a two-bedroom apartment with a roommate. It worked for the short term, but she knew as her daughter grew she would need a room of her own. Piper researched Housing and Urban Development and Section 8 housing, but was told the wait for those options would be a year or more.
Piper knew about Habitat for Humanity and had supported it through her church growing up. She decided to apply and see what happened. Knowing how great the need is, she was shocked to be chosen for an interview, to begin the program and, finally, to build a home. She attended classes in money management and home maintenance, and built up hours of “sweat equity” working on other people’s homes.
“I was willing to do whatever to get the help I needed for my daughter. I realized I can’t do this by myself,” she says. “It was a blessing to see how many volunteers were willing to come out and build our house. They helped me at the most difficult point in my life. Now we live in a community of Habitat families. It’s changed what’s happening downtown.”
Piper and Grace were fortunate to close on their home March 3, just as local businesses were beginning to close down. Even before the pandemic, Greenville County had only enough affordable housing for one of every five households needing it, according to Mark Steenback, vice president of resource development for Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County.
“There are a lot of families here in Greenville that when they were told to stay home, didn’t have a safe or decent place to do that, and with the impacts on the economy the need is only going to get worse,” he says. “For 32,000 households who qualify for assistance in Greenville County, there is no housing available. This means they have to resort to substandard or completely unsafe housing run by slumlords who charge higher than market rates for housing that is well below what is considered decent or safe.”
Monroe Free, president and CEO, says Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofits have faced the same challenges as for-profit businesses: ReStores were closed, some churches and businesses that sponsor homes in normal years were unable to do so, and mortgage payments, which make up a third of the organization’s income, suffered when homeowners lost employment due to COVID-19.
“We’re about six months behind right now with families scheduled to become homeowners. We have families who have been in the program for a year to 18 months who have done everything, and we’ve had to slow down production because we’ve not had the money,” Free says. “Many are living in substandard housing with enormous utility bills. It really is complicated for them. The health of their children is compromised.”
To help mitigate some effects of the crisis, in February The Community Foundation of Greenville made an unrestricted grant of $20,000, along with a commitment of $100,000 over five years, to support Habitat for Humanity’s long-term needs.
“Housing is such a foundational need – without a stable home, it’s very hard to stabilize anything else,” says Community Foundation board chair Liz Seman. “The Community Foundation has always served as a bridge between philanthropy and purpose, and during the pandemic, that bridge was needed more than ever. I’m proud of the way The Community Foundation was able to respond to the immediate and long-term needs of Habitat for Humanity.”
To learn more, volunteer, or donate, visit: https://www.habitatgreenville.org/
In addition to providing affordable homes for families, Habitat for Humanity changes the economic trajectory of that family and the local economy.
Based on 2019 data:
- •For every dollar invested in Habitat Greenville’s work, $1.83 is injected back into the economy
- •$381,257 in local and state taxes paid
- •$12,008,462 in total economic impact on our community last year alone
- Source: Habitat for Humanity