Despite rising building costs, Mitchell Habitat for Humanity plans to accelerate building affordable homes

·4 min read

May 31—MITCHELL — Rising building costs and land availability have posed new challenges for Mitchell's Habitat for Humanity, but the organization is full steam ahead on building its latest Mitchell home.

Volunteers have been making steady progress on building the Habitat home on South Langdon Street in central Mitchell. Wendy Royston, executive director of Mitchell Area Habitat for Humanity, said the costs to construct the house will be considerably more than previous years, with some materials coming in roughly 140% higher than the organization's last build in 2020.

"It costs more for everything," said Royston, who took over as the leader of Mitchell Area Habitat for Humanity in January. "It's a little scary when you are trying to keep things affordable for someone, while still being able to operate the nonprofit organization."

Since January 2020, building material prices have jumped 31%, according to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB). Lumber prices alone have caused the price of a single home build to increase by more than $18,600 from fall 2021 to January 2022, according to data provided by the NAHB.

Despite the rising costs to construct Habitat homes, Royston said Habitat is determined to build at a rate faster than ever. In previous years, the organization built one home over the course of about two years. Now, Royston said Habitat is aiming to build one home each year.

To foot the bill of rising building material costs and build at a much faster rate than previous years, Royston said fundraising and community support have never been more vital for Habitat to continue its mission of constructing affordable houses for selected homebuyers.

"With the rising building costs, there will be more urgency to fundraising," she said, pointing to Habitat's annual garden party that's slated for Friday in downtown Mitchell as an example of a crucial community fundraising event. "The key for us to be successful are community partnerships, volunteers and financial backing."

Habitat homes are built by the hands of volunteers who come together to turn an aspiring homeowner's dream into reality. The construction of Habitat homes are provided by the organization's volunteers at no cost to the homeowner, but homeowners are responsible for the mortgage payments. Through its partnerships, the organization offers an affordable mortgage for its homeowners that is within their financial means.

Since being established in Mitchell, the organization has built eight homes in the community. Each homeowner that Habitat builds a house for is selected by the organization through an application process. Habitat targets applicants who make about 30-60% of the average median household income in their respective county. As of 2020, the median household income level for Davison County was $48,267, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The organization's lofty goal to construct one home each year is being driven by the scarcity of affordable homes in Mitchell. Although there have been a growing number of housing developments getting started in Mitchell — primarily being driven by the private construction sector — Royston noted the respective developments aren't in the same type of affordable category like Habitat homes.

"Mitchell really hasn't had a strong focus on affordable housing. We have some good developments that have been happening, but as far as affordable, entry level new homes, there hasn't been that focus," Royston said.

Bringing more affordable housing options to Mitchell has been a major goal of Mayor Bob Everson, who points to it as a key factor for future growth. Seeing a surge in planned housing developments has Everson optimistic for Mitchell's future housing market. He said the need for more affordable housing options like Habitat provides remains.

"It's great to see a growing number of housing developments get started and planned, but we need more affordable, workforce homes to fill the jobs we have sitting vacant," Everson said.

Footing the bill to construct homes isn't the only challenge Habitat is facing. The organization ran out of lots in Mitchell to build on.

In an effort to help the organization continue its mission, the city of Mitchell donated the pair of Langdon Street lots where the latest Habitat homes are going up.

"Habitat does not typically have a surplus of lots to build upon, due to the cost of acquiring them and the maintenance required to upkeep them. The gift of two lots from the city was a huge blessing to us, as it reduced the financial strain of getting started on house No. 9, plus made house No. 10 a quicker possibility," Royston said.

Another challenge with acquiring lots in Mitchell is finding areas where the type of affordable house Habitat builds fits in with the neighborhood and nearby homes.

"We keep our eyes open for infill lots in a developed area. However, there aren't many of those available either," she said.