Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — After 15 years of successfully putting needy families in their first homes, the Lockport Habitat for Humanity is silent this summer.
There are no clients.
Property has been donated. Valu Home Centers is pitching in with a fund drive and the multi-church effort has volunteers to help with the work.
The non-profit, non-government Christian housing ministry has worked for 15 families in Eastern Niagara County, city and suburbs. Houses have been built in the City of Lockport and the towns of Lockport, Newfane, Cambria, Somerset and Royalton.
Habitat homeowners pay no interest on their no-profit mortgages.
Certainly there must be families in Eastern Niagara County who would love to have their own home for the first time. Why are there no clients?
Norm Kahler, the vice president of Lockport Habitat, explained that there have been applicants. However, the applicants have not been able to meet the criteria.
• The Habitat parameters. Applicants must be employed in order to make mortgage payments. But if they make too much, they are not eligible. They can’t make too much, or too little.
• Taxes. A house built for $60,000 may be re-assessed at $90,000 the next year. That would raise taxes 50 percent and put payments out of reach for a person with limited income.
• Debt. Several applicants do not have a good credit rating and may be in too much debt to take on a mortgage.
• Economy. With money tight and unemployment high, renters may fear risking a dive into home ownership.
Sweat equity may or may not be an issue. While volunteers do much of the labor, the home owners and their families and friends are required to put in 500 work hours. Those numbers can vary, but they may be too much of a load for someone already working full-time and family members who may not be too ambitious.
“The volunteers have not been a problem,” said Kahler, who retired as Barker High School principal in 1999. “Lockport is blessed with having some very, very generous people.”
Carl Stieffenhofer, now 84, is on top of the list. A member of St. John the Baptist Church, Stieffenhofer has served as building supervisor for all 15 homes.
He never got into the application process, but was at the building sites from start to finish. Stieffenhofer was there most every day, supervising, instructing and making sure the job was project ready for the inexperienced volunteers.
Because of his health, Stieffenhofer doubts he will be able to work at sites again. He also questions motivation of possible applicants. “There’s too much subsidized housing in Lockport,” he said.
Some people balk at the responsibility of home ownership, he feels. It is not that important to them as it was in the past.
Will there be more Habitats for Humanity in Lockport? Stieffenhofer answered, “If the Lord wants it, he will make it happen.”
“It’s only a mtter of time until we come up with a family,” Kahler said. Eight land sites have been donated.
The board of directors has petitioned the city for assessment breaks, but has not had an answer. The council may have a reply this Wednesday.
“We have struggled with assestment in the City of Lockport,” Kahler said. “Some have seen their assessments go up 80 or 90 percent. That puts homeowners under a lot of stress to meet their obligation.”
Meanwhile, Valu is chipping in with support. The home center stores are raffling a new car and $1,000 gift cards. Proceeds from Niagara County stores stay in Niagara County, according to Transit Road manager Jeff Osgood.
Raffle tickets are $1 and it includes a McDonald’s coupon.