MIDDLEPORT — Kenneth Oehlers has always wanted to build homes in Meigs County.
“We look to areas with housing needs,” said the Habitat for Humanity of Southeast Ohio’s executive director.
Oehlers oversaw the 2013 consolidation of many Habitat groups in Ohio into the organization that comprises six counties: Athens, Hocking, Perry, Morgan, Noble, Muskingum — and now, Meigs.
As executive director, Oehlers made including Meigs County a priority.
“Meigs has never had a Habitat house, so when we expanded, Meigs was going to be part of that expansion,” he said. “Everyone I’ve interacted with in the county has been very welcoming and excited so far.”
Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity is an international non-profit focusing on housing, reclamation and disaster response. Their primary objective in the Unites States is to create affordable and quality homes for people who may not meet eligibility for significant bank loans — loans often needed to achieve proper housing. They coordinate fundraising and volunteer labor to build a new dwelling for the individuals, who are also required to commit a large amount of “sweat equity” —meaning they must invest time and effort into building their own home or that of another person.
Habitat then extends an interest-free mortgage, whose payments are used to fund another building project. The revolving fund model is subject to similar regulations of finance institutions.
“We look for assurance that the family can make monthly mortgage payments, which range from $250 to $500 a month, and we do a credit check,” Oehlers said. “A lot of people think our houses are given away. We do not give houses away; we just offer an interest-free mortgage payment, which is huge.”
While still searching for applicants, the organization has already picked a building site. An address-less section of Brownell Avenue in Middleport will be the site of Meigs’ premier Habitat home.
Oehlers described the construction process, which will break ground in late October or early November.
“We are planning what’s called a ‘blitz build,’ which puts the walls and roof up in two days. There will be several weeks of work to finish the interior after that, but the frame is up in under a weekend.”
The signature rapid construction of Habitat homes owes to the large number of volunteers typically involved. Areas most in need of Habitat projects also tend to have the strongest community links.
“There is not a skill cap to come out and help. We have trained staff on hand to teach — no experience necessary,” Oehlers said.
But before shovels hit earth, the organization is targeting around $35,000 more in fundraising.
“Each house costs between $60,000 and $70,000, and we still have some work to do on that amount,” Oehlers said.
All of the money associated with the build will stay in the county as Habitat plans to continue operations in the area. Oehlers has assembled a group for ongoing projects, involving the Gallia-Meigs Community Action Agency, the Board of Commissioners, and other Meigs residents.
“To set up the relationships and support here for the future is critical. Our goal is to be sustainable,” he said.
To volunteer, call 740-592-0032 ext. 102.
To apply for home ownership, visit www.habitatseo.org.