15th Habitat home in Cass

Published 8:45 am Friday, January 16, 2009

By By JOHN EBY / Dowagiac Daily News
Cass County Habitat for Humanity marks its 18th anniversary in May with construction of its 15th home in Cassopolis.
"It's a pleasure to be here to talk about Habitat and not the financial situation," Habitat President Charlie Maher told Dowagiac Rotary Club Thursday noon at Elks Lodge 889 speaking as the guest of attorney Mark Herman.
Maher joined Habitat's board a year ago.
Maher lives in Sturgis. He is married and has four children and a grandchild.
The cancer survivor has also been active in a St. Joseph County soup kitchen.
"Habitat in Cass County is going through a metamorphosis, if you will," Maher said. "We not only build affordable housing for our partner families, but we've reached a point where we're quite a substantial non-profit organization" with assets of almost $500,000.
Four of the 14 homes have been paid off through interest-free mortgages and Habitat has the $72,000 budgeted for the upcoming Cassopolis house in the bank.
Wednesday night's application process for prospective partner families was snowed out. Applications have been known to trickle in, "which I found amazing," Maher said, "but when we advertised this year, we were inundated with more than 20. That's never happened. I don't know if we've been around a while and we're doing a better job of advertising or that's because of the economy, but it's good to know that if people have serious needs, we can provide help. It can't be done without support of the business community" for materials and volunteer labor.
Rotarian John Kasper, pastor of First United Methodist Church, serves on the Habitat board, as did Rotarian Don Woodhouse for eight years. President Barbara Groner noted the club worked on the Oak Street Habitat house to involve Rotarians visiting from India.
Habitat can apply for up to $10,000 in state grant money. "Michigan is the only state that has a program like that," Maher said. "Internationally, there is a soft wood lumber program that reimburses up to $10,000 for 2x4s and things like that. We've had eight youth groups join us. This year we're going to have one come back from Illinois."
A motorhome caravan will also be returning, setting up camp at the Cass County Fairgrounds for two weeks.
Habitat provides them lunches.
Partner families need to meet income guidelines, live in the county for six months, have stable jobs and commit to 350 hours of "sweat equity" – 300 on their own three-bedroom house and 50 on the next build. Ned Sutherland and David Hoger spearheaded Habitat in its formative years after 1991.
"It's time to take it to the next generation and let these guys stand back and help where they want," Maher said.