Habitat for Humanity projects give families places to call their own
When all Katie Buroker could find to rent was a two-bedroom apartment, she was forced to share a bedroom with her two youngest sons. She wanted her oldest son to have a room of his own.
“He needed his space more than I did,” said the single mother of three.
But since Thanksgiving, Buroker hasn’t had to share a bedroom with anyone. That’s when she became the proud owner of a Rock County Habitat for Humanity home in Beloit.
“This is my place,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about what the landlord or heat bills will be like. We’re comfortable and it’s a big relief knowing I don’t have to move again.’’
Buroker’s home was one of 46 built by the more than 66,800 volunteers hours since the local Habitat affiliate organized 20 years ago.
Compared to the other 41 Habitat affiliates in Wisconsin, Rock County has a very good track record, said Dave Thomas, executive director.
“The majority of them do not build one house a year,” he said.
But that’s not the vision of local founding Habitat members. The group strives to construct one home annually, Thomas said.
“Over the course of those first few years, they were building one house a year,” he said. “Sometimes they’d start two and it would carry into the next year.” That number increased dramatically about five years ago “when board members decided they were not going to eliminate substandard housing in the county one house at a time,” Thomas said.
A strategic plan to build more homes was created. The first was to build three, then five, then seven houses in each of the following three years. That resulted in more volunteers and donations, and things snowballed from there, Thomas said.
“We were doing very well until the downturn in the economy last year,” he said. “This is the first time in three years no build is going on in the winter.”
Local Habitat leaders are in the process of forming a new five-year plan. The last build was finished Dec. 11, and the next starts April 15. Habitat owns three vacant lots on Cherry Street and will build on at least one of those this year, Thomas said.
That’s good news for families who lack safe and affordable housing. Statistics show children in bad housing have a greater chance of suffering mental health problems and behavioral issues, Thomas said.
Buroker agreed there is less chaos, more organization, and that her boys are happier in their Habitat house.
“It was hard to stay out of each other’s hair in the apartment because everything was so cramped,” she said. “We had a smaller living space and the layout wasn’t open. It means so much to have the space and a place to call our own.”
Buroker also said the Habitat house is more comfortable than the rental unit, the mortgage payment is less and utility bills are cheaper because everything is new and more energy efficient.
“I actually have a place to go instead of being overrun by toys and kids,” she said. “It’s more of a relaxing atmosphere. It’s so nice to walk in and have everything clean and neat plus it’s mine.”