The San Diego affiliate of Habitat for Humanity was at a crossroads. The nonprofit that has constructed nearly 200 houses and renovated more than 200 others for families that otherwise would not be able to afford a home was left reeling when the economy was shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic – its future and the future of its homeowners and future homeowners cast into doubt.

“We are heavily supported by the corporate community and ‘build day’ partnerships where businesses put together teams of volunteers to come in and work on a home and also make a corporate donation or in-kind gift,” said Director of Development Karen Begin. “When Covid struck, not only did we not know what was going to happen economically, but we suddenly didn’t have any volunteers. So our model just sort of blew up.”

A $100,000 grant from The San Diego Foundation-administered San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund proved critical in helping San Diego Habitat for Humanity weather the storm by allowing the organization to complete construction on 11 homes and keep construction moving on two others in Encinitas, plus six in National City. Ten are close to receiving permits in Escondido. In addition, Habitat for Humanity has been able to keep the planning and entitlement process moving forward on 48 affordable homes that will be sold to families with income levels below 80% of the area median income in future years.

“The support enabled us to stay on track despite a significant reduction in volunteer engagement by covering the necessary staff, subcontractor expenses and PPEs to build safely,” Begin shared.

No Place Like Home

For those who receive support from San Diego Habitat for Humanity, living in their own home means building a better future for themselves and their families.

“This situation has allowed me to reflect and always be thankful for Habitat,” said one Logan Heights homeowner. “My children and husband are all at home, and we are thankful to be able to be in our home made possible by Habitat. I couldn’t imagine having to shelter in place at our previous location. We are extremely thankful that things worked out when they did and we are able to be in our home.”

Besides providing the capital to move forward on needed projects, Community Response Fund dollars also provided mortgage relief to six homeowners to keep current with their payments after suffering significant loss of income due to the pandemic. The fact that more Habitat homeowners didn’t require relief is a testament to the success of the model. Homeowners purchase homes at a price that is based on their income rather than what the housing market dictates, which makes long-term stability viable.

Because Community Response Fund dollars helped finance pre-development work on the Escondido homes, San Diego Habitat was able to leverage the gift into a $1 million grant from the state of California.

An Ongoing Crisis

San Diego has been identified as one of the least affordable cities in the United States, and more than 142,000 low-income renters in the county do not have access to an affordable home.

The pandemic’s impact on Habitat for Humanity’s ability to provide needed affordable housing was devastating. Donations from corporate build day sponsorship dropped approximately 30%, prompting the nonprofit to lay off staff and leave some positions unfilled. Volunteer hours, so critical in Habitat for Humanity’s success, were decimated as no unskilled volunteers could work on any projects until recently. Typically, Begin said, volunteers contribute between 48,000 and 50,000 hours of labor annually from over 5,000 volunteers.

“The solution of affordable home ownership is very expensive, but the long-term impact to homeowners and the community pays back significantly,” Begin said. “The story of how we were able to build and plan for more homes at a time when there is such a need for housing inventory in the San Diego region is an inspiring one. This grant enabled San Diego Habitat to leverage funds and build more homes during an extremely challenging year. We are very thankful to The San Diego Foundation and the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund.”

San Diego Habitat for Humanity was among the more than 200 nonprofits supported by the Community Response Fund since the pandemic began. Seeded with $1.25 million from The San Diego Foundation and $1 million from SDG&E, the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund has raised $66 million to date and provided grants totaling approximately $58 million. Nearly 8 in 10 people served through the fund live in poverty, and 56% of grantees were able to secure additional dollars because of their Community Response Fund grant.

You can help by donating to the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund today.