Habitat for Humanity offers ‘hand up’ to Southern Utah families in need of affordable housing

Volunteers work on the 22nd home for Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah in Hurricane, Utah. The home was dedicated March 29, 2018. Date of photo not specified | Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As rent prices soar, so can the difficulty for some families to find affordable housing in Southern Utah.

The 22nd home for Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah under construction in Hurricane, Utah. The home was dedicated March 29, 2018. Date of photo not specified | Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah, St. George News

Volunteers and partners with Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah are trying to change that by building or refurbishing affordable housing for low-income families. After 20 years, the nonprofit organization just opened its 22nd home in southwest Utah last month with a new home in Hurricane.

This is a gift,” said Brandi Espitia-Lefler, the new homeowner of the Hurricane home. “We now have a place to bloom where we are planted.”

Habitat for Humanity prides itself in providing a “hand up” and not a “hand out” to families in need, said Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah executive director Linda Baker.

“When people are in a home without worrying about things like high rent, they can plan for the future,” Baker said. “We’ve had people go back to school and one person took the opportunity to start their own business.”

To be eligible for a home from Habitat for Humanity, families have to make 30-80 percent of the average annual income in Washington County.

It’s not a free house by any means, Baker said. Every adult in the family receiving a home from Habitat for Humanity needs to put 250 sweat-equity hours into the construction of the house. They also pay a mortgage with zero percent interest to pay off the building costs as well.

Melinda Falaniko, a mother who moved to St. George from Hawaii six years ago, became the owner of a home refurbished by Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah after struggling to find a place big enough for her family. Falaniko has eight children between the ages of two and 13.

“We were living in just a smaller place before – you make do with what you have,” Falaniko said. “Two months later, we got a call to come to a certain address with the kids and it was our new home. They surprised us.”

Volunteers, partners and new occupants of the 22nd home for Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah, celebrate the dedication of the home in Hurricane, Utah, March 29, 2018 | Photo courtesy of Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah, St. George News

Falaniko said she was five months pregnant when she started to work toward the sweat-equity hours on her new home. Her husband helped when he could, but he was working long hours at his job, she said.

Volunteers worked with Falaniko and her family to lay tile, knock down walls, paint, redo plumbing and place stucco on the outside of the home. Falaniko’s children even helped with projects like doing the landscaping around the home.

“My home is so much more important to me because that’s my sweat that I put in there,” Falaniko said. “I know what’s behind that wall and where that pipe leads or whatever. It was a really neat experience.”

Knowing the mortgage payments Falaniko pays to Habitat for Humanity go toward a good cause makes her feel even better about her home as well, she said.

“The mortgage actually goes back to Habitat, so they can continue to build and continue to do the help they are doing for other families,” Falaniko said.

The ones who benefit the most from a stable home environment are the children, Baker said.

“Children just thrive better when they know they’re going to be staying in a home,” Baker said. “They’re going to have friends and be in the school without having to interrupt that constantly with moving.”

Falaniko’s children have also grown and improved since her family moved into the home, she said.

“It makes such a huge difference on their confidence and the way they carry themselves,” Falaniko said. “They’re more driven and more close to the community.”

Community members interested in helping Habitat for Humanity can volunteer with the building homes or the organization’s ReStore thrift store at 835 S Bluff Street in St. George.

There will also be a casino-themed fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity on May 5 at the St. George Hilton Garden Inn.

Email: sricks@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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8 Comments

  • comments April 11, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    i’m gonna be a bit of a negative nelly on this organization. 22 houses in 20 years? not exactly much is it? I’m still not even sure what this organization actually does in So. UT. Also, I’ve observed some extremely questionable business practices from the ‘re-store’. This is an organization to which I’d never donate my time or $. I simply don’t trust it.

    • comments April 11, 2018 at 6:15 pm

      *them

      I don’t trust them

    • Sparky April 13, 2018 at 9:10 am

      To be fair, i believe they also buy lots of middle class homes and fix them up as well, they dont build homes unless they get donated land. That is the impression i am under at least.

  • Striker4 April 12, 2018 at 2:22 am

    I’m sure the feeling is mutual. who would want anything from you….Im sure they wouldn’t trust you either. which says a lot for them

  • Scott April 12, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    I’m a little conflicted about this– we already have too much growth in the area. How can we balance the need for affordable housing, while also recognizing that southern utah cannot sustain this many people?

  • LBarron April 12, 2018 at 2:55 pm

    Thank you “negative nelly” for bringing the question to the forefront and giving us an opportunity to clarify to you and anyone else that may question how Habitat works. Habitat builds homes based on the donations and grants we receive from the community. We do not get federal money nor do we get help from HFHI. So with that said, we build based on the money we raise locally. We also struggle, like most in this beautiful area where everyone wants to live, to find lots and houses that are affordable for a family that qualifies. So you are right, we have built 22 homes in 20 years and we are proud of that! We have helped 22 families achieve our mission of affordable home ownership. If you would like us to build more, please donate to Habitat monetarily or with affordable land or time at our builds. Again, thank you for bringing the question up so that we might clarify any misunderstandings that you or others might have.

    • comments April 12, 2018 at 5:44 pm

      I don’t trust your organization and won’t be donating time, money, or anything else, thanks. If the rest of your organization is run the way i’ve seen things run at your ‘re-store’… well, that’s pretty bad. Run like a big scam like I’ve seen with so many other “non-profits.” You people might be able to con some good honest volunteers into putting in their time, but you paid employees gonna have to earn that trust, and from what i’ve seen you people are not worth trusting. Shady shady as far as I’m concerned.

      • comments April 12, 2018 at 5:57 pm

        More specifically, I saw your management making some very shady looking large cash deals with groups of polygamists. And we all know those groups of plygs are famous for their honesty (haha). It was when that asian looking fellow managed the store; I have no idea who does now. The man struck me as a sleaze in every way. So I wonder how many of those donated building materials go to cash deals that are then pocketed. I’m betting a sizable portion. Maybe you people can start building mud huts; that way you could build more than one a year (whoopee!). At the very least you people need to be audited and investigated. Total bs organization if you ask me. It’s gone the way of so many other “non-profits”. For anyone who donates or volunteer to this group you’re probably being suckered. I’ve seen other things, but i’m not gonna make an itemized list. Like I say, I just simply don’t trust you people.

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