Habitat, Goodwill team up to boost underemployed

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Habitat for Humanity believes a home a working family owns is a critical asset it needs to build wealth.

But because many of them are underemployed or may lack important life or work skills, simply owning a Habitat home may not be enough for working families to move up the economic ladder.

To better equip them to make the most of home ownership, Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County and Goodwill Industries of Northwest North Carolina are launching a partnership to provide Goodwill’s career-development programs to Habitat homeowners and prospective homeowners.

Leaders of Habitat and Goodwill say the partnership, to be funded over three years with a $250,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, will expand the impact of both nonprofits.

“We want to give all these homeowners the opportunity to have these Goodwill services,” says Sylvia Oberle, executive director at Habitat. “So if they are interested and able to improve their long-term employability and earnings potential, then they can have long-term success as a homeowner.”

Art Gibel, president and CEO at Goodwill Industries, says that while his organization mainly helps move people who are unemployed into the workforce, the new partnership will serve the growing population of the working poor and people who are underemployed.

The partnership’s new “Habitat Deluxe” program aims to serve 80 to 90 potential and current Habitat homeowners a year over three years.

To become a Habitat homeowner, families must have a clean credit history and meet other qualifications, including showing they can make payments on a 20-year mortgage.

While 300 families apply each year for Habitat homes, only about 10 percent meet the requirements.

Some of those who do not meet the requirements will be one of three groups the new partnership will target, along with all families Habitat has approved for home-ownership, including families that are beginning to experience financial problems.

Families that Habitat does not accept for home ownership will be priority clients for Goodwill Industries and will receive a vocational assessment; skills training, if needed; and the assistance of a case manager to provide career planning, referrals to job placements, and assistance on subsidies to address barriers to employment such as a lack of transportation or child care.

Existing Habitat families, in addition to receiving classes Habitat already provides on home-ownership and financial literacy, also will be priority clients for Goodwill Industries and will receive the same Goodwill services as families Habitat does not accept for home ownership.

And existing Habitat families beginning to experience financial problems and who want to work hard to improve their earning potential also will be priority clients for Goodwill Industries, which also will assign a caseworker to them.

The partnership will “provide the missing piece in support we’re providing both for our prospective homeowners and current homeowners,” Oberle says. “This is not something Habitat should do itself. We should look for experts in the community and form partnerships.”

If it works, she says, the partnership can serve as a national model for other Habitat affiliates.

Gibel says the partnership also could serve as a national model for other Goodwill offices.

“If this works,” he says, “we can try to export the idea to other Goodwill and Habitat organizations and encourage them to work together.”

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