Advocate holding sign in front of U.S. Capitol

Building a better world through advocacy

Affording a safe and decent place to live can be a challenge for many families. That’s why Habitat for Humanity launched its U.S. home-affordability advocacy campaign, Cost of Home, in 2019. The five-year campaign has helped to cultivate, inspire and educate housing advocates to influence policy and reshape systems to increase access to affordable homes.

With the combined support of long-term allies like Whirlpool Corporation, Cost of Home has supported Habitat’s local and state organizations to effectively help change more than 300 policies, unlock US$21.7 billion in government funding and increase access to affordable homes for an estimated 6.6 million people.

“Whirlpool Corporation is proud to support Habitat’s Cost of Home campaign,” says Deb O’Connor, Whirlpool Corporation director of corporate reputation and community relations. “We understand the importance of solving for equitable housing. Supporting initiatives that help ensure availability of comfortable, nurturing and affordable housing in the U.S. aligns with our social responsibility strategy.”

Read on to learn how the Cost of Home campaign has helped Habitat Ohio and Habitat Michigan effect meaningful change in their communities.

Making a difference in Ohio

In 2022, Habitat Ohio and the Ohio network of local Habitat affiliates worked together to secure US$25 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for new home construction, critical home repairs and a pilot program for workforce development. Upon receipt of the funding, the two-year initiative will help build more than 300 homes and repair 1,000 homes.

Habitat Ohio executive director Ryan Miller says that Habitat for Humanity International’s Cost of Home team supported affiliates across the country by helping them understand how Habitat fit into the rescue plan efforts and how to advocate at the state level effectively.

“We had meetings in all corners of the state and heavily relied on affiliate leaders to open doors and help make the case for why Habitat could adequately utilize the funding to increase home affordability,” Ryan says. “I would say more than half of the Ohio affiliate network engaged with their elected officials through in-person meetings, tours, emails and phone calls.”

Habitat Ohio is no stranger to the advocacy space, having scored another victory for home affordability in 2020. In collaboration with the Home Matters to Ohio Coalition, they successfully advocated for a permanent increase to the Ohio Housing Trust Fund — the state’s primary funding source for housing.

Cost of Home helped support that success by providing toolkits and resources that helped Habitat Ohio structure local advocacy efforts and field organizer grants supporting outreach and mobilization efforts. All of this led to an annual increase of US$500,000 in funding for Habitat Ohio’s affiliates, translating to more than 50 homes repaired each year, primarily serving older Americans and individuals with disabilities.

Putting a stop to predatory lending in Michigan

In 2020, Habitat Michigan and the Michigan network of local Habitat affiliates across the state collaborated with the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan to advocate against House Bill 5097. The bill would have allowed payday lenders to issue small loans for up to US$2,500 and established no term limits on the lengths of the loans, meaning borrowers could become trapped in perpetual debt. The monthly fees on these loans would be 11% of the principal, with an annual percentage rate of 132%.

“People would end up paying thousands of dollars more than they originally took out,” says Sue Ortiz, Habitat Michigan’s chief programs officer. “The number one thing individuals have to do in order to afford a home is ensure their finances are in good order. We see these predatory loans as being wealth stripping by not allowing people to move forward with their financial goals.”

Habitat Michigan and affiliates across the state collaborated with several other housing organizations to urge legislators to vote against HB 5097 through phone calls and letters. Habitat Michigan also testified as to how the bill would negatively impact families in front of the Michigan Senate Finance Subcommittee. Ultimately, HB 5097 died before getting a vote in the Michigan Senate Finance Committee. This advocacy work directly aligns with the Cost of Home campaign’s focus on equitably increasing access to credit.

To ensure more community members have homeownership opportunities, Habitat Michigan has created its own lending program, Fair Lending Services, Inc., that helps families gain greater financial stability.

“We have developed an alternative loan product where people can take money out up to US$4,000 to take care of any emergencies and build their credit at the same time,” Sue says. “This credit builder loan can actually be beneficial because of better rates and fees, and we work with the families if they run into bumps along the road. This is a much better option than people getting stuck in payday lending.”

An affordable home for all

When housing costs are high, families are forced to choose between keeping a roof over their heads or having reliable transportation, healthy food or medical care. But with the help of Habitat advocating for policy and systems changes across the U.S., the cost of home is becoming more affordable.