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Washtenaw United: Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley working to create more affordable housing

Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley director of home improvement Martha Davis (left) and Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley CEO Sarah Stanton at the WEMU studio.
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley director of home improvement Martha Davis (left) and Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley CEO Sarah Stanton at the WEMU studio.


Sarah Stanton joined Habitat as Executive Director in 2003, prior to that worked as executive director at IHN Alpha House in Ann Arbor and other nonprofit housing organizations for 5 years prior. Sarah holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Michigan State University and a Master’s in Public Administration from University of Illinois at Chicago. Sarah is the mother to two children and an avid dog lover and metalsmith.


Martha Davis joined Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley in 2011, first as a volunteer in the ReStore, then became ReStore Manager in 2013. In 2017, Martha changed roles and began to work with Habitat’s Home Improvement Program, focused on working with low-income homeowners in Washtenaw County to provide critical home repairs. Martha holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State and is certified in Aging in Place work. Martha has three children and is an enthusiastic gardener and animal lover.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. And welcome to another edition of Washtenaw United. I'm David Fair, and this is our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. The matter of affordable housing has long been an issue in Washtenaw County, and all elected boards and councils in the area continue to slowly address the issue. There's an organization that has been steadily working to create affordable homeownership and home improvement for the area's low-income residents. Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley was formed in 1989 and became the seventh Habitat affiliate Incorporated in Michigan. It's also one of the most successful anywhere in the country. Our guests today are part of the team responsible for that. Sarah Stanton has served as executive director since 2003 and is coming up on 20 years with the Huron Valley Habitat Group. Thank you for making time for us today.

Sarah Stanton: Thank you for having us.

David Fair: And Martha Davis has been with Habitat since 2011 and, since 2017, has worked as senior director of home improvement. Martha, I'm so glad you could be here as well today.

Martha Davis: Thank you, David.

David Fair: So, Sarah, how has this chapter of Habitat for Humanity grown since its inception more than three decades ago?

Sarah Stanton: We originally were doing sort of one, two houses a year where we did new construction stick built and, you know, worked with the community to try to get new homebuyers into the communities.

David Fair: And that's kind of the perception of Habitat, right? Jimmy Carter building homes, right?

Sarah Stanton: Exactly. And so, we had a good history of that and continued to build up. And then, we were looking actually to grow. I mean, we've continued to grow. And then, the housing crash happened in 2008, 2009, and we really converted our work to renovations of existing properties. And that was the, really, the highest need and the most economical way to get homeownership opportunities out there. And so, since then, we've really been focused on primarily renovations and in some partnered areas in Ypsilanti Township, primarily West Willow, Sugarbrook, and Galt Village.

David Fair: Like you said, areas of greatest need.

Sarah Stanton: Yes, exactly. And then, in addition to that, we've expanded, and we do a lot of community development work. You know, it's important to us not to just stick one new buyer in a house on a street. It's important for us to look and figure out ways to improve everybody's house up and down the street, so that neighborhood is more sustainable. And so, you know, in the last 12 years, I guess, we've really been doing home improvement projects.

David Fair: More than 6500 of them.

Martha Davis: Oh yeah. A lot. A lot.

David Fair: Yeah. That's significant. And, Martha, with that in mind, it's an organization that relies heavily on volunteerism. How do you go about sourcing and recruiting people?

Martha Davis: Volunteering comes about mostly by word-of-mouth or attending one of our home dedications. People find out about volunteering--

Sarah Stanton: Through corporations. Partnering.

Martha Davis: Partnering with us. Yeah, we'll have large organizations that will bring a group of their employees out to do work, and we have some that are super-dedicated and come out consistently and we always look forward to them. They do a tremendous job. They'll bring 10 to 12 people and help us do work that we would not have been able to do. I mean, we'd get it done eventually, but it's just the time it takes. It's so much easier when they have a big group.

David Fair: Again, going to imagery, sometimes we think, "Okay, a group of volunteers," and we're picturing one small group helping in one small house. How many projects do you have underway right now?

Martha Davis: Right now, we have three houses.

Sarah Stanton: We probably have eight in various forms of construction in our renovation program. And then, in our home improvement projects, we've got another 120 probably in various forms, either roofs in progress.

David Fair: I see the image of the pool of volunteers has just expanded exponentially.

Martha Davis: Yeah, exactly.

David Fair: Washtenaw United continues on 89 one WEMU. We're talking with Sarah Stanton and Martha Davis of Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley. Affordable housing: certainly not a new issue. It's been here as long as we have, and it's not an issue that's going to go away any time soon. So, how many families and people can this chapter of Habitat for Humanity help in an annual basis?

Martha Davis: Well, for home improvement, we have some critical repairs that we do, things like roof replacements that take longer. So, we're probably going to do 50 to 60 this year. We've replaced over 800 refrigerators installed. What would it be, Sarah? 3000 furnaces or more?

Sarah Stanton: Well, yes.

Martha Davis: Within this year? Oh, not within this year. The furnaces. So, in total, our home improvement projects this year will be about 160 to 180 projects. And then, we'll close with new buyers, about six houses this year. In the past, we've been able to do more new buyer closings. But because of the high appraised values and the interest rate increasing and the cost of construction--

David Fair: Construction. Right.

Martha Davis: We're kind of dialing that down a little bit right now and really focused hard on the home improvement projects.

David Fair: So, Habitat Huron Valley holds the record for most families served in Michigan. It's ranked ninth in the country for number of families served each year of all Habitat affiliates and ranked 10th nationally for number of renovations of all Habitat affiliates. As impressive as that is, the local need is far greater than the help this one organization can provide. So. Sarah, how is Habitat working with other agencies to expedite the ongoing build toward greater equity and opportunity?

Sarah Stanton: Yeah, well, we have strong partnerships within the communities, especially in the communities that we work with, the neighborhood associations, the local congregations. We're very connected and trying to, you know, work together to not duplicate services, but, you know, coexist. And we have a strong board of directors that many of those board members are connected to the organizations that are working in our community. And we have three of our homeowners on our board, which helps. And then we believe the Washtenaw Housing Alliance.

David Fair: Gives a different kind of voice, doesn't it?

Martha Davis: Yes, it does.

Sarah Stanton: Yeah, it's great. Yeah, it's just great. We're lucky to have that and really, you know, strong supporters of the organization and, you know, fantastic leaders. So, that is very important for us.

David Fair: Once again, this is 89 one WEMU, and our Washtenaw United conversation with Sarah Stanton and Martha Davis of Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley continues. You know, you were mentioning replacing furnaces, replacing refrigerators. And I fear that some may hear that and think, "Okay, they're doing really small work." But for all too many people, Sarah, the people you encounter on a direct basis, that purchase can be the difference of being able to stay in a home or having to leave.

Sarah Stanton: Right, exactly. I spoke to a woman the other day whose shingles were coming off, and she was in danger of having her insurance canceled. And we worked with her and explained to the insurance company that we were going to replace her roof. So, she was able to continue living there and not have any worry about, you know, potentially having to leave.

David Fair: So, who is it that you end up helping the most? Obviously, there is racial disparities. There are income disparities in Washtenaw County. There are all kinds of things that separate and divide people. Who is it you are helping?

Sarah Stanton: The people I work with more often than not are senior women of color who live alone, and they're a little lost because they don't know who they can talk to and who they can trust and also what they can afford. And then, we also deal a lot with single moms with kids who are also struggling. You know, they're working full-time and just having the opportunity to sit down and figure out what they should address first and who the company is that they can count on is really hard for them.

David Fair: Is it then a vital part of the job of Habitat for Humanity to create relationships, not just repairs and houses?

Sarah Stanton: Absolutely. That's one of the things I really like is getting to know the people. And I had a lady the other day where we finished completing her roof. She's 88 years old. And she said, "Well, what happens if it leaks?" And I said, "You call me right away, and we'll get the roofing company over there." So, you know, the comfort of knowing that I'm not gone and that they can call me any time is huge.

David Fair: So, I want to take that a little further down the line with each of you. Sarah, I have to imagine that it is a thrill for anyone in your organization to be able to hand over keys to a new house to a person or family in need but not only seeing the reaction but feeling the reaction. Do you have a particular instance that stands out?

Sarah Stanton: Gosh, there's so many. It really is my favorite thing that I get to do is actually sign over the house to somebody. And one of my favorite things often is at people's dedications when they'll have a dedication and invite their friends and family and the volunteers that worked on the house. And, you know, just looking at the faces of the kids that are generally looking up at their mom who's speaking and thanking people. You get this, you know, you get to be a part of something where someone has built something for their family and worked really hard. I mean, in order to get through a Habitat program, it's a lot of work, a lot of sweat equity, a lot of, you know, paperwork. And they're, you know, working full-time and have children most of the time. And it's great to see the look in their kids' eyes at look at what Mom did or look at what Mom and Dad did or look at what Dad did. I mean, it's just it's just awesome to see that and be a little part of it, you know, is pretty, pretty great.

David Fair: And I would imagine that the reaction of the volunteers getting to see that reaction and be a part of that reaction, you see similar expressions on the faces.

Sarah Stanton: Oh, yeah, for sure. You know, standing in somebody's new home and they can say, "You know what? I put in this doorway."

Martha Davis: Yeah, exactly.

Sarah Stanton: You see that siding?

Martha Davis: Yeah, I got that. Yeah.

David Fair: Sarah, you are out in the community more often and you have developed a lot of these relationships. So, it's going to be hard for you to pick a favorite, but maybe perhaps one of the more memorable occasions in which you had that reaction, and you got to carry away that feeling.

Sarah Stanton: I think one of my favorite ones is a woman of color who lived alone. She's 98 years old. She lives in the city of Ypsilanti. And she definitely needed new gutters. And she'd been approached by a company that was going to charge her over $10,000. And I was able to intercede because she called me and saved her from getting into that situation where she was going to be paying. She only made about $18,000 a year, and her payments were going to be $200 a month, and that was way beyond what she could afford. And she and I talk regularly to see just how she's doing.

David Fair: Well, I'd like to thank both of you for making time to come in and talk with me today. And thanks to both of you for the work you're doing.

Sarah Stanton: Oh, thank you.

Martha Davis: Oh, thank you, David.

David Fair: That is Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley's executive director, Sarah Stanton, and Martha Davis, who serves as senior director of home improvement. Sarah and Martha have been our guests on Washtenaw United, and you can learn more by visiting our web site at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and you hear it every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley

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Most recently, Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley is a recipient of Power of the Purse Fund, which aims to support existing and emerging programs and initiatives that increase the financial capability of people who identify as women. They have received a $10,000 reward to help create homeownership opportunities for women with low to moderate incomes and their children to ensure family stability and wellbeing.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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