When her friends talk about planning a vacation, Iris Bess tells them she’s staying put in her West Chicago home.
For the first time in two decades, the 50-year-old woman has her own home, and her two teenage sons have their own bedrooms. She loves the corner lot, her yard and that she can see the sun in the morning from her bedroom window.
She moved into her home in May with the help of DuPage Habitat for Humanity.
“I’m very appreciative of Habitat,” said Bess, who lives on a cul-de-sac that includes other DuPage Habitat for Humanity homes. “This is my vacation spot right here.”
Habitat for Humanity is a national organization with chapters such as DuPage Habitat working to make homeownership a reality for many families. Since 1995, DuPage Habitat for Humanity has helped more than 105 families get their own homes.
It is one of five organizations to receive a $10,000 grant from the Daily Herald’s Neighbors in Need Fund. Daily Herald readers raised $36,000 to benefit agencies that address homelessness, hunger and health care access.
For every dollar raised, the McCormick Foundation donated 50 cents.
“Habitat’s vision is to provide everyone a decent place to live and to put God’s love into action,” said Jennifer Taff, executive director for DuPage Habitat for Humanity.
Traditionally, affordable housing is considered to cost no more than 30% of a household’s income. But that often can be difficult for families who fall beneath DuPage County’s median annual household income of $94,930 when the average median home value tops $300,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Also, the median monthly rent in DuPage County from 2016 to 2020 was $1,365, meaning a renter would need an annual income of at least $55,000 to keep rent at about 30% of his or her income.
In DuPage County, 44% of renters pay more than 30% of their income each month in rent, said Amanda Zahorak, senior communications and advocacy manager for DuPage Habitat for Humanity. Additionally, 30% of homeowners use more than 30% of their income each month to pay their mortgage, Zahorak said.
“We’re providing housing for families that typically wouldn’t be able to afford a house,” said Chris Stello, director of construction for DuPage Habitat for Humanity.
DuPage Habitat for Humanity is building two townhouses in Hanover Park, where the agency has plans for a 27-unit townhouse development off Greenbrook Boulevard. It is the largest development built by DuPage Habitat for Humanity.
Bess said she about “breaks even” between what she used to pay to rent a smaller two-bedroom apartment and what she pays for her monthly mortgage on a larger home with three bedrooms, a basement, a yard and a garage.
She’s happy to be in her own place and doesn’t have to “share a wall.”
She’s also grateful knowing that if something needs to be fixed, she doesn’t have to wait on a property management company for repairs
By the end of this summer, DuPage Habitat for Humanity will have two more homes ready for families in Hanover Park.
“I do it so the kids get decent houses,” said Ted Craft, a volunteer who has helped build more than 32 homes since 2009.
To keep homes affordable, DuPage Habitat for Humanity relies on donations and volunteers such as Craft to help build new homes or rehab existing ones. The agency also acts as a “silent” partner, holding a second mortgage on the home.
The first mortgage, held by the homeowner, is kept at an affordable level, with DuPage Habitat for Humanity taking out a second mortgage to cover the remaining cost. The second mortgage remains on hold until the first mortgage is paid off.
By the time the second mortgage is due, homeowners already have paid off the first mortgage and can either refinance the second or pay it off with savings, Taff said.
Before owning a home, families must complete several courses covering budgeting, finances and other topics related to homeownership.
Additionally, they must complete volunteer hours by either working on their own home or helping out in other capacities such as working at DuPage Habitat for Humanity’s Restore store in Addison.
Potential homeowners also must meet certain requirements for savings and credit scores.
“A lot of people think we give out homes,” Zahorak said. “This is a hand up, not a handout.”
Bess said all the requirements helped prepare her for homeownership and helped her see she could do it.
“This partnership is lifelong,” said Bess, who began the process to own her home in 2020. “It not only helped me, it has helped my children and now they know more than I ever could have known about homeownership at their age.”
To volunteer or donate to DuPage Habitat for Humanity, visit dupagehabitat.org.