Erath County Habitat for Humanity is preparing to start construction on its 20th home.

ECHH started in 1997, and since then volunteers have been building homes for qualifying families in Erath County.

Averaging about one house a year, ECHH uses as much donated materials and labor as possible. The materials must be new and unused to provide the best quality for the families. ECHH then sells the houses at no interest and no profit, making them affordable for many low-income families. The monthly payments that are made by Habitat homeowners go toward building homes for new partner families.

In order to qualify, the family selection committee selects homeowners based on three criteria: the applicant’s level of need, their willingness to partner with Habitat and their ability to repay a mortgage through an affordable payment plan.

“The thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that Habit for Humanity pays for all the upfront cost of building these homes, but the family has no interest mortgage, so they repay,” said Stacy Morrison, chair of the Building Committee. “They make a payment every month and they repay the entire cost of building the homes, so it is not a charity in that we give homes away. It’s usually a 20-year mortgage and they pay insurance and taxes so we tend to go into depressed neighborhoods because that’s where we can get the best deal on our lots.”

Morrison said one thing she likes about Habitat for Humanity is that “everybody wins.”

"It’s a family that’s living in substandard housing and yet we put them in decent affordable housing and they pay that back. It increases property values and safety in increasing better communities and neighborhoods. The tax base wins, the family that gets in there wins [and they have] home ownership and pride in owning their own piece of property and paying mortgage,” she said.

As part of their willingness to partner, Habitat’s homebuyers invest hundreds of hours of their own labor, called sweat equity, working alongside volunteers and other Habitat homeowners.

"They have to put a number of sweat equity hours in on the home before theirs and then they have to put sweat equity hours in on their home, so our families are partners in building - both on the home before them and then on their home as well - so that also increases the feeling of ownership for our families. They also understand better how that home is constructed and even how to maintain that home going forward because they helped build that home. They were there and saw it go from ground up so it’s an educational experience for our families as well on home maintenance,” Morrison said.

Toby O’Neal is the lead builder for this project. He joined ECHH about a month ago.

“I’ve always wanted to work with Habitat for Humanity and when I was approached with the opportunity to head up the construction, I was really excited and didn’t have to think about it too much. I always wanted to get more involved with the community and helping people,” he said.

O’Neal said he will probably put around 15-20 hours a week working on the home. The build won’t go as fast due to the fact that it’s not a standard construction site but he said his company would like to have the home finished within six months.

“We’re really excited to be a part of the community and helping folks in need,” he said.

“I love Habitat for Humanity,” Morrison said. “My passion is building healthy communities and I think Habitat is able to put that into action. It’s exhilarating to be part of helping make someone’s dreams come true. Homeownership is a dream that is part of the American dream, and I love being able to be a part of helping make people’s dreams come true.”

ECHH is continuing to accept applications for their next builds. They bought three lots that are side by side so they already have a plan set on where the next two homes will be.

“We are actively accepting applications for our next builds and we would love to work with families in need that qualify,” Morrison added.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the 20th home is at 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 12 and it will be located at 244 W. Walnut Street.

For more information about ECHH or to apply, contact Chelsea Hansen at 254-459-2868, Lori Hurford at 254-592-1079 or email erathcountyhabitat@outlook.com.