Founded in 1988, the organization has built 156 homes in the county so far. Every year, eight to 10 families are selected to participate in the homeownership program. Requirements include living in overcrowded or inadequate housing and paying more than 30% of income on rent.
Participants must also be able to pay a monthly mortgage payment, based on income. The homes are then sold to families through affordable, no-interest mortgages. Habitat does not make a profit off the homes, Streat said.
Antwi (Kojo) and Pokuaa Kesse moved into their Lawrenceville home with the help of Habitat in August, after living in apartments on and off for the last six years. The couple moved to Georgia from Ghana in 2017.
Not long after, the couple began their home search and found that most were unaffordable. When they did find a home in their price range, it was snapped up quickly by a cash buyer, Kojo Kesse said.
“I couldn’t find anything affordable anymore, because the price was increasing,” Kojo Kesse said.
Lejla Prljaca, the CEO of the Gwinnett Housing Corporation, said buying a home is becoming more difficult because of the county’s housing shortage — and because wages have not kept up with housing costs.
“After the pandemic, we saw home values rise double digits, two, three years in a row now,” Prljaca said. “So that, coupled with some market forces like inflation, that is truly making homeownership almost out of reach.”
Housing supply also plays a role.
“We need more supply in general,” said Matt Elder, director of the Housing and Community Development Division for Gwinnett County. Low supply and high demand means rising prices, he said.
“We need to increase supply overall, that’s for homeownership and for rental units, to make sure that we can stabilize and equalize out some of these spikes in pricing that we’ve seen since the pandemic, and kind of get to a more affordable overall level of housing,” Elder said.
Habitat builds its homes according to the appraised market value in the area, which has been a challenge as home values have increased.
“When I first started, our homes were being appraised around $150,000,” Streat said. “Now they’re $321,000 and higher.”
To help keep costs down for families, the organization continues to work with outside agencies, like Homestretch, a down payment assistance program run by county, Streat said.
Through Habitat, families do not pay more than 30% of their monthly income on housing and utilities, Streat said. “Anything over 30% is considered to be a burden.”
Once selected, families must participate in various workshops focusing on financial literacy and career development.
“They’re going from being renters to homeowners, and that’s a big jump,” Streat said. “There’s a lot of things involved. Insurance, maintenance, you know, things like that. And you don’t pick the phone up and call the landlord if something breaks.”
Kojo Kesse and his family were approved for a four-bedroom home through Habitat, one that he actually helped build in about 12 weeks, he said. Helping build your own home, or the homes of other participants, is a requirement of the program.
The home is designed based on the needs of the family. For the Kesses, it was important that all of the bedrooms were upstairs so the couple could be close to their kids. For Kojo, a must was to have a home office space for his work as a network engineer.
As a part of the partnership, Lawrenceville provided a total of $100,000 — $25,000 per home — in American Rescue Plan Act funding for construction costs, Lawrenceville City Manager Chuck Warbington said.
“We wanted it to match the rest of the houses in the neighborhood. So that included a two-car garage and a chimney on each home,” Warbington said.