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Frequently Asked Questions

What is Habitat for Humanity International?
Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, non-sectarian housing organization, demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ in partnership with families in need, without discrimination according to religion, race or tribe. HFHI seeks to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world, and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action.

The concept for Habitat for Humanity was forged in the river port city of Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo, when the founder, Millard Fuller, and his wife Linda began a low-cost housing project in the early 1970s. The construction of the first house in October 1974 blossomed into a movement, which now works in more than 60 countries worldwide.

While HFHI is headquartered in Americus, Georgia, USA, the area office for Africa and the Middle East is located in Pretoria, South Africa. The area office provides training, technical expertise and support in fund-raising to the national organizations in the region. However, the actual work of Habitat is carried out at the community level by affiliates that have been officially approved by the HFHI Board of Directors. The International Board of Directors (IBOD) are volunteers from around the world who share a deep concern for the problems of poverty housing.

What is a national organization?
Each Habitat affiliate has a local committee that oversees fundraising, house construction and family selection in their community. The local affiliates, volunteers and donors within a country form the national organization, which is supported by a national steering committee or board. Working within the guidelines of the principles of HFH and the policies of the IBOD, the national board provides leadership, vision and accountability for the national program. A national office provides administrative support to the national board and the affiliates.

How is Habitat for Humanity funded?
Habitat for Humanity International is funded by donors from around the world, who are concerned with the devastating effects that sub-standard housing imposes on the health, security and well-being of children and families with limited opportunities. Nonetheless, Habitat for Humanity is not a give-away program. Homeowners are required to pay back their houses, but no interest is charged for the Habitat loan. The house payments go into a revolving Fund for Humanity, which is used to fund more houses in the community. Due to the high rate of inflation in many countries, the cost of the house is generally tied to a commodity, like cement. The homeowner understands that he must pay back enough equivalent bags of cement to build another house. This house for house repayment scheme insures the integrity of the Fund for Humanity.

To supplement house payments and provide for growth and expansion, each affiliate also raises funds locally. Every affiliate around the world is encouraged to give ten percent of what they have raised locally to an affiliate (outside their national borders) or another national program. Thus, affiliates around the world support each other.

How are the houses constructed?
HFH houses are constructed with locally available materials that are appropriate to the country and region. In sub-Saharan Africa, most houses are of burned bricks or compressed soil blocks with a cement floor and iron sheet or tile roof. All HFH houses are required to have a latrine or other toilet facilities.

House costs are kept low by using locally contributed materials and volunteer labour. Homeowners are required to help in the construction of their new home as well as those of other HFH homeowners in the community. The cost to the homeowner is determined after completion of the house by calculating the materials, labour and transport used in the construction with the addition of a ten percent administrative fee.

How are recipient families selected?
Families in need of simple, decent shelter apply to the local Habitat affiliate. Interested families are encouraged to come to a series of educational meetings. Families are then selected as beneficiaries by the local committee on the basis of level of need, ability to repay the no-interest loan and willingness to become partners in the program. Every family must be willing to contribute “sweat equity,” time and effort in the construction of their home and the homes of other recipients in the programme. Habitat does not discriminate in the family selection process on the basis of race, religion or tribe.

How does a community start a Habitat affiliate?
Starting a new affiliate in a community takes time, local resources and local volunteers. In countries where Habitat is established, the national office offers training and support to interested communities. The process of affiliation may take from six months to two years and requires local initiative and local fund-raising.

In new countries, where Habitat is not currently operating, interested individuals, organizations or community groups should contact the Africa and Middle East area office in Pretoria, South Africa for further information.

Does Habitat for Humanity work with other NGOs or governments?

Habitat for Humanity invites the partnership of individuals or partner organizations interested in alleviating the problem of poverty housing. HFH partners with other NGOs and community development groups involved with income generating projects, health initiatives or training. In coordination with other organizations, HFH provides resources and expertise in alleviating critical housing needs as a result of natural disasters or civil war. Government partnerships provide land and infrastructure for affiliates. International corporations, local businesses and concerned individuals sponsor houses, participate in special events or come together to help build houses along with members of the local community.

What is the First Shelter Initiative?
As part of HFHI’s Disaster Response program, The First Shelter Initiative (FSI) was developed to provide immediate help to those who are so severely affected by disaster or conflict that they are unable to meet Habitat’s typical program requirements. Through the First Shelter Initiative, HFHI will enter a disaster-affected area to assist with shelter and will remain until the families are able to transition to permanent housing and a sustainable Habitat model.

FSI effectively mobilizes the community by maintaining the following Habitat principles:

• Community-based committees participate in family selection and monitor activities of the project.

• Recipients participate in the building and/or repair of their homes and those of their neighbors.

• Partnerships with other organizations working within the distressed area leverage Habitat’s impact in meeting the needs of disaster-affected families.

There are two distinct differences between First Shelter Initiative and Habitat’s typical housing program:

• The program does not require the affiliate structure.

• The program does not seek cost recovery or maintain a Fund for Humanity.

The Africa and the Middle East area currently have First Shelter Initiative projects in Burundi, Angola and Sierra Leone.