Apply Within

Looking for Qualified Home Buyers for Habitat for Humanity

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh piece in a series called “Putting Anthropology to Work” contributed by students of Margaret Buckner at Missouri State University. 

The director of Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, Missouri asked students from the Ethnographic Field Methods class at Missouri State University to find out why Habitat is not getting qualified applicants. To answer this question, we used participant-observation, informal interviews, Habitat data, and social network analysis.

We attended classes for partner home buyers at Habitat, new applicant meetings, a partner home buyer advocate meeting, and carried out participant-observation while carrying out other projects. By talking to people, we discovered that much of the public is unaware of Habitat’s home buyer program. There is also a lack of qualified applicants within the non-profit organizations Habitat is associated with (i.e., The United Way of the Ozarks).

We looked over 150 past applications and found that a high level of debt was the biggest issue when applying for a home.

According to the Family Services Associate at Habitat Springfield, debt-to-income ratio is another key reason for new applicant denial. One partner home buyer was only accepted through Habitat the second time she applied, because the first time her debt-to-income ratio was too high. Her acceptance into the program was also contingent on her willingness to pay off outstanding debt and include her daughter’s income on the application in addition to her own.

Another issue is mandatory criminal background checks. This requirement on the application may prevent ex-criminals from applying in the first place. However, they can be considered for housing on a case-by-case basis, a fact noted in an interview with the Family Services Director at Habitat. This was not mentioned in the flyer or at the new applicant meetings that we attended.

We looked over 150 past applications and found that a high level of debt was the biggest issue when applying for a home. Debt-to-income ratio and insufficient income were other main factors for denial. The percentage of applicants with a high level of debt was 31.33 percent. To apply for a home, an applicant’s debt cannot be greater than 30 percent of an applicant’s income. This was the second most common reason for denial, accounting for 22percent  of the applicants. The third highest category was “income too low,” which amounted to 10 percent of applicants.

Using social network analysis, we looked at how websites were connected and how well they might lead potential Habitat partners to the Habitat website. First, we conducted a search for “Affordable housing in Springfield, MO.” We followed links from the website listed first in Google search results. Out of 22 websites that were visited, only four directly linked to Habitat for Humanity (links to Habitat). The clear majority of websites Habitat linked to (links from Habitat) were non-profit organizations that usually deal with individuals with income lower than that required to buy a home through Habitat.

Overall, three main themes stand out: the lack of awareness among the public of Habitat’s home buyer program, Habitat’s targeting applicants with low to no income, and potential problems with people who apply, such as a criminal background and high debt, that aren’t clarified early on.

Matt Flint and Kaitlin Karney are undergraduate students at Missouri State University.

Please send news items, contributions, and comments to CSAS contributing editors Cristina Ortiz ([email protected]) or Carrie Hough ([email protected]).

Cite as: Flint, Matt, and Kaitlin Karney. 2017. “Apply Within.” Anthropology News website, October 4, 2017. doi: 10.1111/AN.589

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