LARAMIE – A long-time Laramie nonprofit is planning to merge this summer with a Cheyenne organization with the same mission.
Habitat for Humanity, which has been operating in Laramie since about 1998, is set to merge with My Front Door, which aims to help lower-income families purchase homes.
“We have much in common with the Habitat program,” said Brenda Birkle, executive director of My Front Door, also known as Wyoming Family Home Ownership Program.
Habitat for Humanity has built 17 houses during the last 20 years, including three duplexes on property along Colorado Avenue in West Laramie.
Guillermo Brizuela, who opened the Laramie chapter and has been a board member ever since, said the me-rger came about because he couldn’t find anyone willing to continue the local operation.
My Front Door was willing to take all the group’s assets and maintain relationships with participating families. The Habitat address and phone number will also remain the same, he said.
Habitat for Humanity is a global non-profit that helps families afford housing by building new homes or renovating existing homes with the help of volunteer labor, including that of the family that will occupy the home.
“Habitat does not charge interest, and the price is 50 % less because we don’t charge for labor,” Brizuela said.
About a dozen homes built by Habitat for Humanity in Laramie still have occupants making mortgage payments. Several others have been sold.
“The family moved to a better place and they sold the house and moved up,” he said.
Since opening its doors in 2007, My Front Door has helped 43 families purchase homes in Albany and Laramie counties through a three-phase model.
During the first phase, participants with an income that’s between 50% and 80% of the area’s median income take a 12-week financial literacy class where they learn about budgeting, repairing their credit, communicating about finances, buying a house and more.
Once they complete the class, they spend the next 18-24 months applying what they learned by saving at least $2,400 toward a down payment. Along the way, a My Front Door advocate helps them look for a house and walks them through the purchase process.
“They have a sounding board with our family advocate,” Birkle said. “She goes through the whole process with them.”
After the family purchases their home, they remain with the program for five more years, receiving support as they look ahead to new goals.
“They look at ways to improve the value of their home, they look at retirement savings, perhaps acquiring more skills and going further in their professional career,” Birkle said. “We take a holistic approach.”
Birkle said My Front Door will take in families currently working with Habitat for Humanity who want to join the process.
“We’ll help steward their home ownership much like Habitat did,” she said.
My Front Door also plans to use Habitat’s undeveloped parcels on Colorado Avenue in West Laramie to develop a community land trust, in which My Front Door would build homes to sell to income-qualified buyers while maintaining ownership of the land. When homeowners sell, they would keep their equity and some of the increase in value while the trust handles the sale to another qualified family.
“That is a new solution for an age-old problem,” she said. “In essence, if you didn’t have to pay for 25% of your house, how much more house could you afford?”
As families move through the My Front Door program, they could opt to purchase a home on the land trust, giving them more purchasing power.