It’s a phrase you may have heard before. It conjures up images of rolling back sleeves, getting into the labor of a project. You may hear it in business circles or among weekend warriors. It’s the non-monetary contribution someone makes toward a venture.
But when you hear it here at Habitat for Humanity, it means something even deeper.
When we review applications for affordable homeownership, Habitat looks for three key factors. We want to find families with a need for housing – and we don’t have to look very far to find families living in overcrowded, unstable, or unsafe conditions, or paying the lion’s share of their income toward housing. We also ensure that families have the ability to pay for a stable, affordable mortgage – setting them up for success as homeowners. Third, we are looking for a willingness to partner. Becoming a Habitat homeowner is making an investment in the future, not passively receiving charity. It’s an active partnership, and a community-driven effort. And that is where sweat equity comes in.
Future Habitat homeowners pitch in, lending their own efforts alongside our staff and volunteers. Sometimes it’s in one of our three ReStores, or on a volunteer committee, or in our office. Most of that time, though, is spent out on the construction site. That’s right. Habitat families put in 500 hours of time – not to mention muscle and sweat – on the construction of their future homes and the homes of their neighbors.
This means that Habitat homeowners build with us, and with you. They are a part of the community that comes together to build opportunity, to create the strength, stability, and self-reliance that come with affordable homeownership. They’re learning valuable skills that will help them maintain their homes in the future. They’re building together, too – long before they unpack their first moving boxes, future Habitat neighbors are getting to know each other, becoming a community in spirit before they become one in residence.
Sweat equity is powerful. It gives future homeowners a true sense of ownership from the ground up. It bonds them forever with the community that built with them. And it ties them to the community of Habitat homeowners, past and present. It’s a memory that stays with them, and many continue to pay it forward long after their sweat equity hours are complete, coming back out to site to swing a hammer for other families.
Homeownership is an investment. It’s building a legacy, raising your eyes past the end of the month and out to the horizon. And for Habitat homeowners, it’s one that begins well before the first mortgage check gets written. It begins in the hands, with sleeves rolled back, and in the heart, open to future.