The local Habitat for Humanity chapter marks 30 years of the fight for affordable housing

GAYLORD — The Otsego-Antrim Habitat for Humanity chapter is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month, and many may not realize that the nonprofit, founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in 1976, is a Christian organization.

“We start every meeting with prayer,” said Randy Urban, board president of the Otsego-Antrim chapter. “Basically, we’re helping people find affordable housing. It’s a laudable goal and it’s worked better in some areas than others. When you get to the rural areas, you see that’s where you have the most difficulties, but also the most need because the municipalities “Locality does not have the capacity. The revenues to support a proactive approach.”

Despite its Christian status, Habitat serves people of all faiths.

Finding the right housing can change the course of someone’s life.

“We like to say that we are not a hand raised, but a hand raised,” Orbán said.

Each person selected by Habitat for the home building program must participate in building the home and also obtain a mortgage to finance it.

Aini Abubakar, executive director of Otsego-Antrim Habitat, said the community has embraced the organization in many ways. She also said the tornado that struck Gaylord on May 20, 2022, heightened her local awareness.

“Before the hurricane, we worked to create awareness by getting to know our communities and constituents,” Abubakar said. “The hurricane put us into action as a disaster recovery organization in helping people repair their homes and find new homes. This was something we didn’t realize we were capable of doing.”

The tornado caused extensive damage to a mobile home park in Nottingham Forest. The Habitat Chapter intervened to clean up the area and repair or replace many damaged homes within 90 days of the storm.

The Otsego-Antrim branch has set up two stores to sell building supplies, furniture, sinks and other repurposed items to the public. Abu Bakr noted that the money generated from this goes to operating stores and providing funds to build and repair homes in the two provinces. The Antrim County store is located in Mancelona and the Otsego County store is in Gaylord.

In many cases, people who donate items to stores qualify for a charitable tax donation, Urban said.

The Habitat Branch has also established a good working relationship with Lowe’s and Home Depot stores and with local licensed contractors/skilled craftsmen in the area. In many cases, the two stores sell items to Habitat for projects at cost or slightly above cost.

“By law, we are required to have licensed builders, electricians and plumbers. Many of them will provide their work at a reduced cost or in some cases no cost for our projects,” Urban said.

Everyone now realizes there is a shortage of housing, especially affordable housing, in northern Michigan, and it’s serious, Urban said.

“At the political level, they understand the problem. As for understanding it, I say no,” Orbán said. “Are they taking a proactive approach, I would say no.”

Urban said local developers would welcome a more efficient permitting process for building and connecting utilities.

“All the things that now take years to get through all the bureaucracy. Remember that developers have to make capital commitments upfront, so when it takes time to get permits, they have to hope that when it comes to covering their costs,” he added.

To get a better idea of ​​how the lack of affordable housing is impacting the local economy, consider the Menards store being built in Gaylord.

“They’ll need about 150 people to run the store. Where will the employees live? Management can come in and buy market-rate housing. However, people who are making $15 to $17 an hour, there’s no housing for them,” Urban said.

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He continued: “I don’t think we have a long-term strategy, and part of it is that politicians are focused on the short term.” “In my opinion, politicians don’t see people who work at that level ($15 to $17 an hour) as their constituency.”

One way to address the shortage of affordable housing is with so-called tiny homes, according to Urban. These are structures that range in size from about 140 square feet to 600 or 650 square feet. However, Otsego County regulations do not allow the construction of a single-family home of less than 720 square feet except in certain multifamily projects.

Contact Paul Welitzkin at

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