As its name implies the Family Selection Committee is charged with identifying partner families who will become the beneficiaries of the covenant partner’s work. The tasks involved in doing this include developing the selection criteria, identifying the population in need, promoting the program among that population, creating the application process, and processing applicants. Ultimately, the Selection Committee will recommend potential partner families for approval by the Board of Directors.
Partner Families are selected on the basis of (1) need, (2) willingness to partner and (3) ability to pay the mortgage on their new home or willingness to donate through the Greater Blessing Box. The development and documentation of its Selection Criteria should be among the first tasks undertaken by the covenant partner.
Families in need are those whose present living conditions are substandard because of physical condition, overcrowding or safety, and who have no other access to obtaining decent shelter. This is not a first-time-buyers program, rather one designed to make decent shelter available to those who are truly in need. Families who have access to decent shelter through other means should be directed to those programs while the covenant partner focuses its energies on those who do not. By definition, then, The Fuller Center reaches out to poor and very poor families.
To assure compliance with fair housing laws, “need” should be defined in specific terms. The Committee should list those issues that constitute substandard housing such as physical deficiencies in the structure and/or its systems (plumbing, heating, electrical, etc.), overcrowding, health and safety, and so forth. The Committee must also define economic need in objective terms, e.g. household income at 50% or below median. Income rates can be found on the HUD web site’s “income limits” section.
WILLINGNESS TO PARTNER
The Fuller Center is not a give-away program, but a partnership between people of good will and resources and the poor. The success of the program will ultimately be measured by the success its partner families enjoy as homeowners, and that success begins with families who are willing to enthusiastically participate in the construction of their own home and those of others and to make regular payments on their mortgage. One of the attractions of the Fuller Center approach to donors and volunteers is the opportunity of working hand-in-hand with people they would otherwise not have the opportunity of knowing. Selecting families who are willing to participate in the program not only helps assure the family’s success but is of great help to the Covenant Partner in raising funds and motivating volunteers.
Objective measures of the family’s willingness to partner includes:
ABILITY TO PAY
A foundational principle of The Fuller Center is that families pay for their new home or repairs/rehabilitation on terms they can afford. This approach serves both the partner family and the covenant partner. The family benefits in a number of ways: it develops a true sense of ownership and the pride that attends it; it develops financial discipline as it learns to budget for the payment; and it moves the family from being just a recipient to being a donor, as the mortgage payments or Greater Blessing Box donations are used to build houses for other families in need. The covenant partner benefits by having a steady source of income that it can use to expand its ministry.
Analyzing a family’s ability to pay includes determining the family’s income and its obligations. Income can be defined broadly to include any legal source including welfare payments and SSI. (When including SSI payments to minor children care should be taken to plan for the time when those benefits cease). A calculation is then made of the funds available to the family after its monthly obligations are met to pay the mortgage.
Covenant partners are subject to the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which require that the selection criteria not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, familial status, age or disability; or because all or part of the applicant’s income derives from any public assistance program; or because the applicant has in good faith exercised any right under the Consumer Credit Protection Act. To assure compliance, the Selection Criteria must be as objective as possible and applied fairly to all applicants.
Identifying the Community in Need
Many people live in a community for years without ever visiting its poorer neighborhoods or even knowing where they are. A thoughtful approach to addressing poverty housing includes a fairly comprehensive survey of the geography and demography of the community. This will provide the Covenant partner with an idea of where its work is most needed and also where the work can be efficiently and affordably undertaken. It will help identify potential partners who can assist with other aspects of community enhancement such as improving schools, economic development, health care and transportation.
When the covenant partner is ready to start accepting applications the issue becomes one of finding the applicants. Young organizations that have not yet established themselves in public awareness need to be proactive in seeking potential partner families. Good sources for support would include social welfare agencies, the local housing authority, and churches.
Once applicants have begun to appear they should first be invited to an orientation meeting. This is the first opportunity for the covenant partner to explain The Fuller Center’s mission, method of operation and foundational principles. It is important at this time to explain the sweat equity and repayment requirements that the partner family is expected to meet. It should be remembered that a full understanding of the Fuller Center approach will require repeated explanation over the course of the entire process from this first meeting to closing on the house, but a thoughtful orientation meeting will help get potential family partners off to a positive start.
A second step could be inviting the partner family to participate in an upcoming work day. The family’s enthusiastic participation in the work day will provide evidence of their true willingness to partner going forward. On the other hand, reluctance to participate could provide a warning sign of potential difficulties with that particular family.
Processing the Application
Once applications are received the Committee should review them looking for information that may disqualify the applicant on the basis of income, asset level or an income to debt ratio that would make it difficult or impossible to repay the loan. A credit report should be obtained to identify potential liens or a poor payment history that would make homeownership untenable. It should be remembered, though, that the financial circumstances of the families we seek to serve will most likely be troubled and the credit report should be seen more as a guide to how they can be helped rather than simply as a disqualifier.
When it appears that an applicant is a likely candidate for homeownership a home visit should be scheduled. Two members of the Committee should make that visit, during which they can assess the nature of the family’s current living conditions and get a better sense of the family’s willingness to partner and ability to pay the mortgage.
Once the application has been approved by the Selection Committee it should be referred to the Board of Directors for a final sign-off. This should be done in executive session and any materials distributed for the Board’s review returned to the Selection Committee and destroyed. When the applicant has been approved by the Board, the work of the Selection Committee with regard to that applicant has one remaining task, issuing the Acceptance Letter.
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