Habitat for Humanity of La Plata County is staying on mission by building houses for those in need, but its future is uncertain during the coronavirus pandemic.
The organization’s ReStore, a furniture store, provides revenue for the building projects, but that revenue source has tanked since the pandemic began. The organization can keep going for the year, but its revenue needs to increase by January, said Rachel Taylor-Saghie, the executive director.
To stick to its mission, the nonprofit plans to build a new duplex in the Fox Farm Village subdivision in Bayfield and complete a home renovation by September, she said.
“With the ReStore being closed, we were concerned that our mission – which is really to build homes – would be challenged,” Taylor-Saghie said. “We’ve tried really hard to ensure that our project budget is such that we can work diligently to complete the build.”
Like many businesses throughout the country, the ReStore had to close temporarily because of coronavirus-related restrictions. It has reopened, but the closure and continued restrictions are taking a toll.
To reduce exposure to the virus, the organization limited the number of people allowed in the store at a time. It spent about $1,200 just on personal protective equipment in May, and that was with limited staff and customers in the building. It started a forbearance policy and emergency fund to support families struggling to make mortgage payments to the organization. Staff also pick up fewer items from households in the community, a “lifeline” of donations for the store, Taylor-Saghie said.
“I don’t know how long we’ll be able to maintain that. The social distancing is a real issue,” she said.
Before the virus’ arrival in March, the ReStore brought in $23,000 to $32,000 each month in gross revenue. That dropped to around $7,000 after Colorado’s response to the virus began. Typically, all of the funds support the organization’s housing projects by covering construction or other project costs.
“At this point, we’re bleeding. None of it is streaming through because we’re not making enough,” Taylor-Saghie said.
The organization decided to continue with the building projects to help people in need of better housing – especially when so many people face uncertain financial circumstances. The organization is using funds, allocated before the pandemic, to complete the projects by September.
Taylor-Saghie said about a third of the applicants to Habitat’s Home Ownership Program are displaced. Some are residing with a family member or friend to save money, while others might have a job but can’t afford housing.
The new duplex in Bayfield, which broke ground May 4, is a single-level building with two bedrooms in each unit. The building is energy efficient with solar panels to decrease future utility costs. Its appraisal value falls between $195,000 and $205,000, depending on the housing market.
It is also designed to be handicap accessible, with wide doorways and appropriate bathroom appliances and more, so the future residents can live independently into their senior years.
“You want to be sure they’re not having to move in 10 years because you didn’t put the right doorway in,” Taylor-Saghie said. “We are committed to making an opportunity for independence.”
The home rehabilitation project, which began in 2019, will update an existing three-bedroom home. The organization will upgrade appliances, redo painting and flooring, improve landscaping and more by September. The recipients have not been chosen yet, but four households are eligible.
However, the building projects also face coronavirus-related challenges.
The organization usually depends on a variety of volunteer groups. But the virus keeps people home, and struggling businesses might not be able to provide volunteers. The remaining group, the Hammers Club, consists almost entirely of retirees, who are thought to be more vulnerable to serious cases of COVID-19 because of their age.
“We had agreed to move forward and build a home, and now we’re struggling to find out how to secure some more skilled labor,” Taylor-Saghie said.
The home building projects would provide small relief to the organization’s financial struggle. The organization’s mortgage receivables right now is about $6,000 per month. With the duplex, the group would receive about another $1,000 per month, she said.
The board voted Monday to keep the ReStore open. To go forward after January, the organization will need to have sold a home or to have the ReStore bringing in its typical revenue streams.
“We’re all hopeful, so we’re waiting to see what’s going to happen,” she said.