How Habitat for Humanity is ensuring its housing stays affordable in Bucks County's hot real estate market

·5 min read

In 2005, Sarah Kelsh-Dandridge was a 23-year-old single mom and only able to secure a home with help from the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County.

She would raise her son, invest in her home, and eventually sell that property after 15 years for $75,000 more than its originally appraised value.

“I will be forever grateful,” said Kelsh-Dandridge. “Habitat for Humanity gave us a safe place to live. As a parent, I couldn’t ask for anything else. ”

It's the kind of success Habitat strives for, but the skyrocketing price of real estate has complicated matters for the nonprofit as homes constructed and sold to low-income families have been re-sold at much higher prices, removing them from the already low inventory of affordable homes here.

“We have a lot of homeowners moving on, and that’s a good thing,” said Florence Kawoczka, executive director for the nonprofit. “But even Habitat can’t afford to buy the homes back, and it’s getting harder and harder for us to find a piece of land that we can afford or a home we can buy in county."

Jenny Koszarek, of Bensalem, and her two boys celebrate the ground breaking for their new home courtesy of Habitat for Humanity.
Jenny Koszarek, of Bensalem, and her two boys celebrate the ground breaking for their new home courtesy of Habitat for Humanity.

In Bucks County, housing prices rose 9% from March 2021, according to a recent report from the Bucks County Association of Realtors. The median sold price for a residential property was $400,000, well out of reach for many first-time buyers or those on a low or moderate income.

With its 125th house, Habitat said it was forced to change its long-held policy for home sales in order to prevent homeowners from re-selling low-income housing at higher price points in a hot real estate market.

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On Friday, the organization broke ground on its 125th home, and the first under the new terms. The land under the house will remain under Habitat’s control and, if sold, the house must go to another qualifying low-income buyer, according to the new policy.

“We’re going to make sure that 10, 20, or 30 years from now another low-income family is going to be able to buy this house,” said Kawoczka.

Habitat homes are sold to families earning between 40% and 80% of the median family income for the county ― a figure that varies based on the number of parents and children.

For example, a single person living alone would qualify with an income of $26,480. A single parent with two children would qualify with an annual income of $51,060.

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Habitat for Humanity International already encourages all of its affiliates to have protections in its housing programs to safeguard against losing housing stock to market-rate buyers.

"Reserving this right allows local affiliates to keep a housing unit affordable, especially in high cost areas," said Erika Cotton Boyce, director of public and media relations for Habitat international. "The first right to repurchase has always been a part of the Habitat model, so we don’t consider affiliates engaging in this activity a trend."

Since 2003, at least 18 homes secured with help from Habitat for Humanity of Bucks County have been resold at higher prices without any restrictions, county records show. Families averaged nine years in those homes and sold the properties for, on average, about $36,000 above the initial appraisal.

In one case, a family, resold after three months and a home initially valued at $119,800 was resold for $175,000 ― 46% above the initial value, according to the Bucks County Board of Assessment.

Some Habitat homes have changed hands a few times in the last 15 years, county records show.

One property initially constructed in 2003 and valued by $110,200 has changed hands twice. That property located in Milford Township was resold in November 2020 for $202,000 ― almost twice the original value. However, given the market, it still sold for less than the median price for a home in the township, which was $301,000, according to the U.S. Census.

Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and Parx Casino begin to lay the foundations for a new home on Beaver Dam Road in Bristol Township
Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and Parx Casino begin to lay the foundations for a new home on Beaver Dam Road in Bristol Township

On Friday, Habit for Humanity celebrated the groundbreaking of its latest property. The new home is under construction along Beaver Dam Road in Bristol Township.

Future homeowner Jenny Koszarek isn't concerned about the new terms for Habitat homeowners. She just wants to provide a home and separate bedrooms for her two boys. To secure the home, she will need to dedicate 200 volunteer hours with the organization and attend classes on financial planning.

The single-mom is currently living in a one-bedroom apartment in Bensalem. He new home, and the dream of homeownership, may be a reality by late summer, according to Habitat.

Koszarek's rental situation is quite common, said Kawoczka.

"We see this all the time," Kawoczka said. "Families get stuck in overcrowded, one-bedroom apartment because the rents are just so expensive in Bucks County."

In Bucks County, the median rent for a one-bed room apartment is $1,092, according to a U.S. Census 2020 American Community Survey. Renters seeking a two-bedroom apartment will pay $250 more, or $1,342, according to the Census.

"Of course, not everyone needs to be a homeowner but we're seeing too many families in these situations of crowded apartment and renters paying more for that apartment than they would pay for a mortgage on a house."

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Bucks County Habitat for Humanity introduces controls to keep units affordable