It’s an army that’s two million people strong – an army of volunteers devoting their time and talents to serve Habitat for Humanity affiliates nationwide. Teams from Regions Bank are part of that army in several cities.
While many people think of home construction when they think of Habitat, the nonprofit is equally focused on ensuring families remain in their houses. During National Homeownership Month, we’re highlighting the work of a Habitat affiliate in Arkansas that’s helping clients achieve stability during economically challenging times.
Looking Out for Each Other
“If somebody fails, I take that personally.”
“Somebody” looks far different than one just person to Kelly Fleming. Try 2,000-plus “somebodies,” the number of people Habitat for Humanity of Central Arkansas has served since 1989.
Habitat clients are like family to Fleming, and she believes families are responsible for looking out for each other. So, when Fleming began her executive director role with the Central Arkansas Habitat affiliate during the pandemic, she quickly realized some of Habitat’s family members were at risk of becoming significantly behind on their mortgages due to events outside of their control. Fleming saw an immediate need to take action.
The answer? Connecting clients with resources from a U.S. Treasury Department program.
“There are Homeowner Assistance Funds that have come down to every state through the American Rescue Act,” explained Fleming of legislation created to help families experiencing financial hardship. “The program is remarkable in that homeowners who qualify can use up to $40,000 to catch up on their mortgage payments, escrow costs and utilities. We’ve helped several of our clients fill out the paperwork to keep them current. Some have even been able to pay off their mortgages with this help.”
Habitat for Humanity of Central Arkansas has served over 2,000 people since 1989.
Rodney Abston is also passionate about seeing Little Rock-area families succeed. His professional title is Little Rock market executive for Regions Bank. His volunteer work is serving Habitat.
“Supporting affordable housing nonprofits has been a focus for our family for a long time,” said Abston. “My oldest brother has been involved with Habitat in Houston for 10 years, and I’ve become more and more active during the past five years.”
That more active involvement includes not just serving as a member of Habitat’s board of directors and on its Development Committee, but also in a leadership role as the nonprofit’s treasurer. But what means the most to Abston are the moments of meeting Habitat families and seeing the life-changing impact the organization makes.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a family who’s worked really hard receive the keys to their first home at a closing and dedication ceremony,” said Abston. “That’s why the work Habitat is doing to connect clients with resources like the Homeowner Assistance Funds to keep them in their homes is so incredibly important.”
Beyond financial challenges, the pandemic presented another hurdle for Habitat clients: the ability to fulfill their required volunteer hours in working toward their homeownership goal. But not to worry; Fleming has that covered, too.
“COVID made it harder for our homebuyers to earn their sweat equity hours,” Fleming said. “Some can’t take off work to come and help us in the office Monday through Friday, so we needed to be creative. We’ve found other ways like working in our Restore. Our clients tell us it’s some of the most rewarding work in the building.”
There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a family who’s worked really hard receive the keys to their first home at a closing and dedication ceremony.
Rodney Abston, Little Rock market executive for Regions Bank
Rising material costs and supply chain shortages presented yet more hurdles. Fleming and her team decided the time was right to briefly press pause on new builds. Instead, they’re looking at this unique moment as an opportunity to implement changes so they’re ready when Habitat crews get back to swinging hammers. One of those changes will be visibly noticeable with an architecture firm creating an improved house plan.
Another significant change involves expanding the affiliate’s area median income (AMI) eligibility requirements. The goal: to serve even more families. AMI is based on factors such as gross household income, household size and where a home is located.
“We were previously accepting homebuyers if they fell in the 30-60% AMI range,” said Fleming. “Thirty percent is barely minimum wage. We can go as high as 80 now. That opens up the possibility of Habitat homeownership for more deserving families.”
And yet another change?
“When we reopen homebuyer applications, we’re going to require our clients to attend an orientation,” Fleming said. “We want applicants to understand the full scope of the program and consider whether it’s for them. It’s about setting them up to succeed from the very beginning.”
And for those who decide it is the right path? They can count on having an entire team of support during each step of their journey – beginning with Fleming.
“We don’t put our clients in their homes and then disappear on them,” said Fleming. “Partnerships are so important. We view this as a partnership, and so do our clients. We work with them to stay in their homes however we can.”
Because for Kelly Fleming, this is personal.
See how the Regions Foundation, a nonprofit primarily funded by Regions Bank, and Regions Bank are also supporting Habitat affiliates in Austin, Texas; Tyler, Texas and Marion, Indiana.
About Regions Foundation
The Alabama-based Regions Foundation supports community investments that positively impact communities served by Regions Bank. The Foundation engages in a grantmaking program focused on priorities including economic and community development; education and workforce readiness; and financial wellness. The Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation funded primarily through contributions from Regions Bank.