The ROI for Building Hope


As home buying families build and buy their Habitat homes, they transform their own financial future. Their investment in home transforms both their family’s future and their neighborhood. The Cameron/Crutchfield family recently celebrated the completion of their Habitat home on Blacknall Street in NECD.

The Perez family will be neighbors to the Cameron/Crutchfields as their home is now underway on Blacknall Street. Join us at 3 p.m. on 1/28 to celebrate with the Perez family. Habitat homes represent stability. Many Durham families who rent are forced to move when the rent goes up. A move to another affordable, often drafty or dangerous apartment can mean a new school for a child. How does that child thrive?

The ROI for Building Hope

By Blake Strayhorn, Durham Habitat Executive Director

Marcia’s request surprised me. “We’ve heard about families overcoming adversity to build and buy their Habitat homes, and about the kids growing up with brighter futures. I want to hear the business case for Habitat. Why should we support your work?” 

We were at a recent gathering, and we’d just shared several Habitat home buyer stories. We’d talked about the power of partnerships between families, donors, and volunteers. The partnerships that build homes, hope and community.

Marcia is right - it’s easy to focus on the stories. They are personal and they are highly compelling. Stories of hard work, and big dreams, and brighter futures for Habitat youth. Stories of homeowners whose asthma goes away after they move into their new Habitat home.

They are stories of new beginnings. They are stories of unity. In our divided world, we celebrate as different groups join together to attack a common problem - not enough affordable housing in Durham. These are stories of hope. 

Thanks to Marcia’s question, we had an impromptu Q&A around business concepts like the return on investment (ROI) for a donation to Habitat. To my surprise, the audience was highly engaged. Here’s a recap.

Describe the Habitat model. Habitat builds and sells homes to families who make between 30% - 60% of Durham’s average median income ($17,550 - $40,000 for family income). Home buying families are board approved, and they qualify based on their need for housing, their ability to repay a mortgage, and their willingness to earn sweat equity (in lieu of a cash down payment) by working with volunteers to build homes. 

Habitat is both builder and lender, and our 0% interest rate keeps homes affordable. Mortgage payments, including property tax and insurance, typically range between $500 and $600, and are often less than rent families pay before they buy their Habitat home. 

Where is Habitat building? Habitat is now building in inner city Durham neighborhoods, mostly North East Central Durham, buying lots and vacant homes on streets in a neighborhood with a 61% poverty rate. We acquire several lots in close proximity to one another and build homes concurrently. Our investment catalyzes a transformation. 

As Habitat homeowners transform their own financial situation, they also transform their streets and neighborhoods.  New or rehabbed Habitat homes on a street means crime goes down and property values - and tax revenues - go up. Families are healthier, children do better in school, and next thing we know, Habitat can’t afford to buy lots on that street any more.

How many homes will Habitat build this year? We built 22 last year, we will build 25 this year and we hope to build 35 next year. We also repair homes for around 50 low-income homeowners each year.

How many families are waiting to buy homes? Our current waiting list is 28. We manage the list to achieve a year-long process from application to move-in.

How does the City support your work? The City has been a good long term partner to Habitat. City funding for Habitat has varied from year to year.  Last fiscal year, the City supported Habitat’s land acquisition and construction, and also provided $20,000 interest free loans for 20 Habitat homebuyers. (Habitat homeowners repay these loans to the City, and Habitat guarantees repayment.) This year, as the City develops a comprehensive approach to Durham’s affordable housing crisis, there has been no funding for Habitat’s work.  We’ve been told that will change with City grant opportunities in April. We are hopeful we will continue our partnership. I’m convinced Habitat represents an excellent ROI for taxpayers and donors alike. 

What keeps Habitat from doing more? Land and money! As Durham booms, the City estimates there are 15,000 families who are severely cost-burdened, paying more than 50% of their income for housing. If only 10% of those families qualify for Habitat homes, that’s 1,500 families. Durham is in an affordable housing crisis. The need is great. We have to do more.

How can we help? If you’d like to make a donation to support Durham Habitat’s work, please visit Or you can call Roxanne at 919-698-3910 or me at 919-219-4343.  


Habitat builds bridges. On Habitat’s MLK Interfaith Day of Service, Muslims, Jews and Christians built together on Alma Street. AND… four college students – two from UNC and two from Duke -rode together in the same car to build with us!  Now that’s team building! 

Young Habitat supporters give Habitat big thumbs up! We are excellent stewards of your donations - 91% or every dollar Habitat raises goes to programs. In addition, Habitat’s work benefits our entire community in so many different ways. We promise an excellent ROI! 


Habitat Success Stories

Lal is a Burmese refugee who came to Durham after stops in India and Thailand. Lal partnered with Habitat and the Durham Literacy Center to renovate a historic home in East Durham. "There is no more fear," Lal said. "We won't have to move again because the home belongs to us."