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Inaccuracies, assumptions clouded facts about Habitat

Published: Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012 5:00 a.m. CST

This is in response to the letter by A. I. Johnson of Newark that appeared in the Thursday, Dec. 6, edition of the Morris Daily Herald. The article includes inaccuracies and incorrect assumptions that I feel compelled to address.

Should the city of Morris decide to purchase another piece of the old Federal Paperboard property on the east side of town, and should it decide to offer some of the property to Grundy-Three Rivers Habitat for Humanity, it would be handled in the same manner that the city sold the first five lots to Habitat for Humanity.

In 2011, after several years of negotiations between Habitat for Humanity and the city, Morris decided to sell a parcel of city-owned property at the corner of East Street and North Street to Habitat. According to state law, the city could not donate the property unless it was a “Home Rule” municipality. The property must be sold at 80 percent of the appraised value.

The North Street property was sold to Grundy-Three Rivers Habitat for Humanity for a total of $122,400, or $24,480 per lot. Habitat for Humanity paid the entire cost of having the parcel divided into a five-lot subdivision and paid for the extension of the sewer and water mains to each lot.

“Home Rule” municipalities such as Joliet have donated entire blocks of blighted properties to their local Habitat for Humanity in order to clean up the neighborhoods and get the properties back on the tax rolls. Months of negotiations went into this agreement to sell the property to Habitat for Humanity. At least two city aldermen were not in favor of selling the property, but would rather have developed the property into a city park, ball diamonds or a dog-walking park — none of which would bring in any tax revenue, but, instead, would have been an additional tax drain on the community.

Building homes on this property puts the property back on the tax rolls. Not, as A. I. Johnson suggests, that no real estate taxes would be collected.

Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that works to eliminate poverty housing around the world and to make adequate housing a matter of conscience and action. Our local affiliate, Grundy-Three Rivers HFH, builds and renovates houses in partnership with people in need, then sells the houses to the partner families.

Families are selected by the local affiliate based on their need for housing, ability to repay a no-profit, no-interest mortgage, and their willingness to partner with Habitat.

Mortgage payments contribute to a Fund for Humanity, which in turn provides more money to build and renovate more houses. Because of Habitat’s no-profit, no-interest loans, and because the houses are principally built with volunteer labor, mortgage payments are affordable for low-income families. Partner families must contribute a minimum of 400 hours of sweat equity on their home.

A. I. Johnson suggests that the homes are for government-regulated Title 8 tenants. This is grossly untrue. Habitat for Humanity is, in no way, affiliated with any government program. Nor is it subsidized by the government.

Thanks to the efforts of Mayor Kopczick and several of the city aldermen, the old Federal Paperboard property is slowly being cleaned up and restored to the tax rolls. One of the best uses is for housing that fits into the existing housing on the east side.

If industry were interested in locating there, it would have done so by now. In fact, what industry was there is slowly leaving. Witness the Jefferson-Smurfit property that now sits idle.

The first of five homes has been completed on the North Street property by Habitat for the Cox family. It is scheduled to be dedicated on Jan. 5, 2013. I encourage everyone to drive by the home and see that it is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

I would also encourage A. I. Johnson of Newark to investigate and learn what Habitat does for the community and to get the “facts” before he speaks out so negatively. It does everyone a disservice and hurts a great organization such as Habitat for Humanity when such untruths are perpetuated.

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