Habitat for Humanity Fixes Up Foreclosures

  • House leader Steve Denman helps Kallista Walker build a knee wall in the attic of this house. Walker is putting in part of her 300 hours of sweat equity so she can qualify for a house of her own. (Photo by Rebecca Williams)

Michigan has consistently been on a top ten list nobody wants to be on. That’s the list of the top highest home foreclosure rates in the country, but for some people this means opportunity.

The group Habitat for Humanity typically builds new homes, but now, some of the chapters in Michigan are taking advantage of all the foreclosures around the state. They’re buying foreclosed homes and renovating them, instead of building new.

The group says it’s less expensive to renovate an existing home than it is to build a new one. It can save resources, but it can also mean dealing with a few surprises.

Detroit Habitat for Humanity

Map of foreclosures in Michigan

A bike ride through Detroit with David Byrne


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This yellow ranch house in Ypsilanti Township has been gutted, stripped down to the studs. Up in the attic, there are a bunch of volunteers in hard hats and face masks.


Sam Moore is a volunteer. He says they’re making the house more energy efficient.

“We’re just building knee walls inside this attic to hold loose fill insulation on top of the house so it won’t blow all over the place.”

This house was built in the 1950’s and it had basically zero insulation.

Steve Denman is in charge of overseeing this renovation for the Washtenaw County Habitat chapter. He says their main goal is making the home more affordable for its new owner.

“We want the homeowner to not pay so many bills in energy. She’s going to have a tremendous amount of less money to pay.”

These renovated homes are being sold to low-income families at cost, with a zero interest mortgage. And they’re usually first-time homeowners.

The Washtenaw County chapter switched over to just doing renovations a couple years ago when the market went south.

Megan Rodgers is with Habitat. She says buying and fixing up foreclosures costs about two-thirds of building a brand new home. So they can do more of them in a year, and get more families into homes.

But Rodgers says there’s no question building new is easier.

“In new builds we had five specs of homes, you could build the wall in a warehouse, and have it delivered. With a renovation you just really never know what you’re getting into, how long that task might take.”

Rodgers says they’ve come into houses that have been stripped of all the electrical wiring and all the copper. Sometimes the siding is gone. And there can be bigger problems.

“A lot of these homes have lead. Lead abatement is extremely expensive to do, so we have chosen to have several members of our construction team go through lead abatement training.”


Kallista Walker is one of the people who’s buying a renovated foreclosure from Habitat. She’s here working, putting in some of the 300 sweat equity hours she needs before she can close on her house in a different neighborhood.

“This will be my first time ever owning my own home where I can paint and put colors on my own walls. That’s the thing I’m most excited about and having a garage of my own and a back yard, so I’m excited, I’m really really excited.”

The Washtenaw County Habitat group has been fixing up several foreclosures in the same neighborhoods, to try to add some stability to the neighborhoods. Kallista Walker says she thinks that’s a good idea.

“I love it because that means you’re changing the face of the community, you know what I mean? When you drive through and see houses where no one’s living in them, no one’s lovin’ on them, no one’s doing the yards and all the other houses are sorta nice. I mean, it changes the feeling and it draws different things to it.”

She’s hoping to move into her new home with her two sons and her mom in a few months.

The Washtenaw Habitat group says they’ll keep buying and fixing up these homes as long as they can continue to afford them.

Rebecca Williams, the Environment Report.