Sumter County Declares Victory over Substandard Housing
"A society is judged according to the way it treats its neediest citizens."
In 1992 Habitat for Humanity and local nonprofit groups and government agencies formed a partnership called the Sumter County Initiative. The idea was simple enough: every Sumter County resident or family in need should have an opportunity to own or reside in decent, affordable housing.
Eight years later, the SCI's goal has been realized with the completion of the Jimmy Carter Work Project 2000 in Americus and Plains, Ga.
"Sumter County is an example -- it's a monument to what a community is capable of when it joins together to help its citizens [that are] in need," says Clive Rainey, director of Habitat for Humanity's 21st Century Challenge, a program designed to help communities develop their own housing initiatives, using Sumter County as a model.
"Everyone -- all of us, every last person on God's earth -- deserves decent shelter," states Millard Fuller, Habitats founder and president. "We have the know-how in the world to house everyone. We have the resources in the world to house everyone. All that's missing is the WILL to do it."
Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about the Sumter County Initiative, its formation and achievements.
What is the Sumter County Initiative?
The Sumter County Initiative is a community coalition dedicated to providing everyone in need in Sumter County, Ga., an opportunity for decent, affordable housing. Its culmination is being celebrated by Habitat for Humanity and its community partners, along with hundreds of volunteers from the JCWP 2000, during a house dedication in the Easter Morning Community in Americus, Ga., Sept. 15.
Who qualifies for a Habitat house?
To qualify for a Habitat house a candidate must be in need of assistance and able to afford the no-interest mortgage payment (in Sumter County an average Habitat house payment is $200 a month). Candidates must also be willing to partner with Habitat, which requires putting in "sweat equity" hours in construction of their own, or of someone else's, house.
What about people that don't qualify for a Habitat house?
Habitat is not the only provider of housing in the SCI partnership, though it is a primary one.
Through grants and sponsorships, financing alternatives and other affordable housing options are available. Individuals and organizations have sponsored special projects, and the development of low-rent apartment complexes has provided affordable housing solutions for many Sumter County residents.
So -- there's no one living in substandard housing in Sumter County?
There are a few individuals in Sumter County who have, for diverse reasons, decided to remain in substandard housing. If they should change their mind in the future, affordable options will remain readily available through the initiative.
The SCI was developed with the understanding that housing needs in a community are fluid by nature; and so, accommodating changing needs is one of its long-term goals. HFH Americus-Sumter County expects to build Habitat houses for many years to come, but at a reduced annual construction rate.
How much does a Habitat house cost?
Because land and material costs vary, Habitat house costs vary. In Sumter County a three-bedroom house averages $44,000; a 4-bedroom, $45,000; and a 5-bedroom, $46,000. Habitat houses are sold at no profit, with no interest charged. In Sumter County 15- to 30-year mortgages help to make payments manageable for various owners, according to household income.
What's the key to the Sumter County Initiative's success?
Partnership is the key. The combined efforts of the original five partners -- Habitat for Humanity International, Habitat for Humanity Americus-Sumter County, Americus Housing Authority, City of Americus and Christian Rebuilders -- along with generous support from local corporate, church and individual sponsors, were crucial to making the initiative a success.
While enjoying the imminent success of the SCI, local partners realize that the initiative will continue as housing needs of its community members evolve. However, the first, significant steps have been taken and a network is now in place that will allow Sumter County to continue to keep its promise of providing housing opportunities for its residents in need.