One year ago, Lizbette Rodriguez stood in the middle of an uncleared vacant lot in Clay County and told her daughter to snap a picture of her “in the living room.”
That was where Rodriguez, 30, envisioned the room would be when her family moved into the house yet to be built for them.
In August 2013, she and her husband, Luis Rodriguez, 31, learned that they had been chosen by the Fuller Center for Housing of Greater Kansas City for a new home.
“I cried tears of joy,” she recalled.
Those tears have since turned into hours of sweat as she helps construction crews build the house.
The vacant lot was donated to the Fuller Center, a nonprofit that builds, renovates, rehabs and repairs homes to make them safe and affordable for families and individuals of limited resources. The center then accepted applications from prospective homeowners and chose the Rodriguezes, a family of five during the week and on weekends, six.
In the Northland, two organizations are busy helping renters become homeowners — moving them out of overcrowded, unsafe and substandard conditions.
The Fuller Center and Heartland Habitat for Humanity, both founded by Millard Fuller in Georgia, share a mission to provide decent homes for families who don’t earn enough to qualify for a conventional home loan.
The homes are sold on the Bible finance plan, said Graham Houston, president of the board of directors for the Fuller Center of Greater Kansas City:
“You do not charge interest on money lent to people in need.”
The Rodriguezes now pay $850 a month to rent an apartment in Liberty. Their new home is not a gift, but it will ease the pressure on their finances. They will hold a 30-year mortgage with monthly house payments of less than $500, including the principal, insurance and taxes.
Also considered in the selection criteria are income guidelines; ability to pay a mortgage; a willingness to work with the Fuller Center or Habitat in building the home; and expectations of long-term residency in the home built for them.
Habitat requires households to earn an income of 30 to 60 percent of the local area median income; the Fuller Center requires income below 50 percent of the local area median.
“For example, a family of four with an income of $36,000 a year is at 50 percent of the local area median income,” said Tom Lally, president and chief executive officer of Heartland Habitat.
During the week, Lizbette Rodriguez works at an apartment complex in Liberty, and Luis Rodriguez works in a warehouse in North Kansas City. The children attend schools in Clay and Platte counties.
Since February, the Rodriguezes have been using their weekends off to work alongside volunteers to shingle the roof, install siding and do whatever needs to be done to turn a 90- by 135-foot lot into a four-bedroom home with a yard.
“She’s not afraid to get up on the roof or climb a wall,” Charley Lamb said about Rodriguez’s approach to pitching in.
Lamb, 82, is construction supervisor for the crew of volunteer carpenters from area churches. He has been helping build such homes since 1997.
“Lizbette and Luis have done more than 400 hours of sweat equity already,” Lamb said during work session last month.
The Fuller Center and Habitat require their homeowners to contribute some 300 to 350 hours of “sweat equity,” investing their time and labor in construction of the house and in education about responsibilities of homeownership.
Homeownership means stability, Lizbette Rodriguez said:
“I believe in settling down in one spot.
“You know where you are going to be at the end of the day — and you don’t have to worry about the neighbors upstairs.”
And that living room Rodriguez envisions in her new home won’t be filled with bikes and skateboards like the one in their apartment now. The house will have a one-car garage, and the kids and dogs will have a yard.
The family hopes to move in before Thanksgiving.
Construction has not even begun on the home in Liberty for Eltowm Eltowm and his wife, Siham Dowas, and their four children. But they are excited and willing to wait.
“I can be patient for a long time,” Dowas said.
Eltowm and Dowas came to the United States in 2003 as refugees from Sudan. They’ve been on the Heartland Habitat waiting list since 2007.
They moved to the top of the list a year ago when a vacant lot was donated to Habitat by First United Methodist Church of Kearney. Church members will help when construction begins, said Spencer Smith, senior pastor.
“We want to do more than just donate property but manpower as well,” Smith said. “This fits in with our mission as a sustainable way to help people.”
With $78,500 in hand, Habitat is a litle more than halfway toward the goal of raising funds to build a 1,400-square-foot home on the lot, said D. Bradley Leech, vice president for development and external affairs. The board authorized construction to begin, and the first crew of volunteers will begin flooring and framing in October.
Eltowm has already contributed more than 285 hours of sweat debt by working Saturdays at the Habitat ReStore in Kansas City, Kan.
“They told me to stop so I can put the rest of my hours in my house,” he said.
Eltowm and Dowas have two sons and twin daughters who attend schools in the North Kansas City School District.
Dowas works a day shift as a hotel room attendant and Eltowm, 45, works a second shift in a warehouse so that one parent is always at home with the children.
Since 2005, they have lived in a townhouse in a large Kansas City, North, apartment complex. Their rent is $700 a month and the kids “play in the street,” Dowas said, because there is no yard or sidewalk.
When their house is built, the children will enjoy a large front yard and a small back deck. The monthly house payment will be less than $550.
Created by a merger in 2006 of the Kaw Valley and Northland Habitats, Heartland Habitat for Humanity serves Clay and Platte counties in Missouri and Wyandotte, Leavenworth and Johnson counties in Kansas.
Next month, Heartland Habitat is opening a ReStore at 8516 N. Oak Trafficway in Kansas City, North.
ReStores are like thrift stores for contractors and do-it-yourselfers. They sell new, surplus or gently used building materials, fixtures and appliances to the public.
“ReStore diverts waste from landfills, offers affordable home improvement products and generates revenue for all Heartland Habitat programs and services,” Leech said.
The store on North Oak will be the nonprofit’s third ReStore in the Kansas City area.
Sales from the store in Kansas City, Kan., and the one in Overland Park have generated more than 50 percent of the operating revenue for Heartland Habitat.
“They kept their promise to me,” was Lorie Perdieu’s response when she heard that the Fuller Center was building a house for the Rodriguez family.
In 2010, Perdieu moved into a home built especially for her through the cooperation and generosity of Northland Neighborhoods Inc. and the Fuller Center. Northland Neighborhoods donated the lot and $60,000 to help pay for construction of the home.
Hers was the first Fuller Center home built in the Northland, and Perdieu insisted that it couldn’t be the last. She was a hesitant homeowner, recalled Graham Houston.
“She had to be shown how homeownership was possible for her,” Houston said.
Perdieu, 53, was born with a severe disability that affects every joint in her body and limits her range of motion, sometimes to the point of total rigidity. Before moving to the Fuller Center house, Perdieu had rented a small apartment in Independence for 24 years.
The thought of leaving the community she had come to know over the years and the responsibilities of owning rather than renting made her think twice — or more often — about agreeing to move and hold a mortgage.
“I said ‘no’ many times,” she recalled. “It sounded too good to be true.”
She was recommended for the house by the Coalition for Independence as a model of how much individuals with disabilities can achieve.
She works 20 hours a week as an advocacy specialist, a state employee through the Ticket to Work Program. She gives presentations on awareness and sensitivity to businesses, organizations and groups in an eight-county area.
Perdieu agreed to accept the home, but with the understanding that other homes would be built and made available to those in need and to those with disabilities.
Perdieu’s house incorporates universal design features such as a no-step entry, wider doorways and hallways and a garage for the custom-equipped van she drives to work.
“The mortgage payment is a little more than rent but as I get older, this house makes it possible for me to stay here rather than going to a nursing home,” she said.
The Fuller Center did more than keep the promise made to her in 2010 — Perdieu was recently elected to the board of directors for the center.
“It is very important that the people we serve be represented on our board,” Houston said.
The Fuller Center for Housing of Greater Kansas City was founded in 2009 as a covenant partner with the national organization in Georgia. It serves Clay, Platte and Jackson counties.
Fuller Center for Housing of Greater Kansas City
Address: P.O. Box 901365, Kansas City, MO 64190.
Learn more: 816-659-4815 or www.FullerCenterKC.org
Heartland Habitat for Humanity
Address: 1401 Fairfax Trafficway, Kansas City, Kan.
Phone: 913-342-3047 or 816-468-7190