Becoming a homeowner is a key issue for families in overcoming poverty. The group H.O.M.E (Homeworkers Organized for More Employment), a member of Emmaus International, has set up a collective and participatory organisation to help them gain access to low-cost homes.
Sarah and Logan: a couple with five children, extremely limited income, difficulties in repaying their loans, homeless. Tamy and Jason: a couple with three children, a history marked by death, disability, extreme poverty, etc. These are two families of many who are looking for housing and have turned to H.O.M.E in Maine. This State, in the northeast of the United States, is notable for having the third most malnourished population in the country. H.O.M.E provides emergency accommodation to these families and suggests income-generating activities, as well as helping them to get back on their feet (repair work, recycling, craftwork, selling groceries, etc.) However, these solutions are precarious as long as families do not have stable and secure accommodation. Rather than prolonging their time in a shelter, H.O.M.E has gradually developed a programme to build and renovate low-cost housing that families can afford, which would be impossible on the conventional market.
On a case-by-case basis, H.O.M.E supports these low-income families in a long-term process and prepares them for home ownership. Firstly, this involves helping them to become eligible for a mortgage. In practical terms, they must make their situation more stable in shelters, set up a small personal contribution, improve their credit rating with banks, etc. In addition, H.O.M.E calls on its network of donors to support these families with their home savings.
To develop this work further, H.O.M.E has had a community land trust since 1978 which now manages around sixty homes. This trust owns the land and coordinates the building or renovation of houses. The work is carried out jointly by volunteers and the beneficiary families themselves. This sweat equity means future homeowners take part in the work, taking on responsibilities, lowering costs, and cementing a local community around the projects. The houses are then leased to families in the form of long leaseholds that they can, in turn, pass on to their offspring. If the family decides to sell, it must be at an affordable price so another low-income family can benefit, in order to preserve the spirit of the project and keep the houses affordable. Moreover, homeowner families are actively involved over the long term. In particular, they hold a third of the seats on the board.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, the needs for solidarity have increased. Prices have increased, including house prices. H.O.M.E has therefore had to scale up its advocacy work with local authorities to increase the amount of new affordable housing in the region.