Billings Habitat for Humanity boosts homebuilding after pandemic's lull

Posted at 4:22 PM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 19:18:46-04

Habitat for Humanity in Billings took an unexpected financial hit from the COVID-19 pandemic, losing a majority of its labor base and funding, but it's back to normal operations and accepting volunteers.

“During COVID last spring, we were supposed to have our major fundraiser that brings in about 350 people. We have it at a big hotel here in Billings and that brings in about $80,000. We did not have that event last year. We had to come up with different ways to help raise that money,” said Jim Woolyhand, Habitat for Humanity executive director.

Habitat for Humanity

The money is being raised for a new affordable housing development off Wicks Lane in Billings Heights that totaled $1.2 million.

The Habitat for Humanity foundation has been building affordable homes in Billings since 1992 and is now finishing construction on its 89th family home.

Woolyhand said the goal is to eventually build 21 homes in this development. They currently have five either built or under construction in the area.

“We build three to four homes a year. In order to keep that going, we need the support from the community,” said Woolyhand.

Even though funding was limited and COVID restrictions cut back the number of volunteers per project, they continued to build.

“We couldn’t do it without the financial commitment of the community. Initially we tried to keep it as business as usual. That didn’t work with restrictions coming in from the governor and city wide,” Maria Reed, Habitat for Humanity volunteer coordinator.

Habitat for Humanity

Reed said they had to cut volunteers down to just crew leaders and homebuyers.

“Now that restrictions have been lifted and people have been vaccinated, we feel that it is an appropriate time to open back up to the public and start bringing people out and letting them swing hammers,” said Reed.

Accepted applicants for the program must abide by certain criteria.

“(They must have the) ability to pay because they purchase the home through Habitat for Humanity through fair market value at zero interest. They have to be willing to partner. A family puts in anywhere between 350 and 500 sweat equity hours. The family also has to have a need,” said Woolyhand.

Homebuyers don't pay more than 30 percent of their income, with the idea that the work they put into the home makes up the difference.

Lena Rideshorse, a homebuyer through the program, said she applied over two years ago. The process involved a lot of paperwork and some waiting, but she said it was worth it.

“April of two years ago, they called me and said that I got picked for a five-bedroom house. I was so excited, I started crying at work and everybody was all excited for me,” said Rideshorse.

Habitat for Humanity

Rideshorse said she is currently living in a home with her and her six grandchildren.

“There is a couple of them that are doubled up and there is one that sleeps in a living room downstairs. Every year we have the heating problem, where we don't have heat. We have had a gas leak in the house, there is mold in the house, so we have pretty much been through a lot living in the house,” said Rideshorse.

After being chosen by Habitat for Humanity for a new home, Rideshorse was able to pick out the color of the home, the flooring, countertops and more importantly, she also helped build it.

Rideshorse said she has enjoyed being a part of the building process and that once she moves in, if need be, she will be able to fix things on her own.

According to the organization, one three-bedroom home costs $208,000, and they are hoping that the community will help to fund these projects and allow low-income families to have a new home.

Habitat for Humanity

For information on how to volunteer or donate, visit the foundation’s website.