After graduating from college and moving back to her hometown of Sturgis, Laura Webb found herself hoping to buy a home, but unsure if that hope would ever become a real possibility.
“I was renting a small apartment, working two jobs, paying down student debt,” shares Laura, “you know, buying a home seemed scary to me…like how could I make it work?”
That fear was multiplied when Laura started looking at homes—everything in her price range seemed to need a lot of work and that work would take a lot of time and money. This was discouraging.
If you have tried to buy a home in St. Joseph County this year, Laura’s story might feel familiar.
Like the rest of Southwest Michigan, the housing inventory here is low, driving up prices and compelling homebuyers to act fast. While this environment brings positive news for home sellers, housing shortages can make it difficult for first-time homebuyers like Laura, who are hoping to buy a home, but not break the bank.
In Sturgis, where the median household income lands around $50,000 per year, housing shortages can be an obstacle to homeownership for low and middle-income families. When you consider the social, financial, and community benefits that come with owning a home, this issue becomes increasingly problematic, both for Sturgis home-seekers and the community at-large.
The bad news? Solving the equation to the housing problem will not happen overnight—it’s a complex issue with many contributing factors that may take years to work out.
The good news? The Community Foundation and Sturgis Neighborhood Program are working on it anyway.
Since 1991, the Sturgis Neighborhood Program (SNP) has worked to advance their mission to improve living conditions in Sturgis by providing quality, affordable housing, and homeownership opportunities.
“We know that home ownership provides families with a sense of pride and dignity, including the opportunity to build wealth and equity, and that’s good for the entire community,” explains Tracey Parker, SNP’s Board President.
Since forming, SNP has completed nearly 60 projects including home renovations and blight elimination, all aimed at improving Sturgis neighborhoods and providing more options for quality, affordable housing.
So, how do you take a successful program like SNP’s and help it grow to better meet the needs of the local housing market? The short answer—a lot of collaboration.
That collaboration begins with SNP working with the City of Sturgis to identify city-owned property sites for renovation.
“We work closely with the City of Sturgis,” says Monica Smith, Executive Director of SNP. “With their help, we are able to identify and purchase city-owned properties for home renovation and construction projects.”
For its part, Sturgis Area Community Foundation then finances both the purchase and renovation of the property, investing foundation dollars that are later returned to the community’s endowment after the home sells. Throughout the entire process, SNP coordinates, working with local vendors and contractors to execute the renovations.
Utilizing this model, the Community Foundation has backed multiple home renovations for SNP since 2011 and is also currently supporting renovation projects on Ohio Court and Wenzel Street that will soon provide two more quality homes for Sturgis families.
Adding a Partner
But it doesn’t stop there.
To expand its homeownership program and bring even more quality homes to Sturgis, SNP is adding a new partner this year—the CTE Building Trades Program of St. Joseph County’s Intermediate School District.
With financial investment from the Community Foundation, SNP launched a brand new home construction on Sturgis’ South Maple Street. The lot was purchased from the City of Sturgis for just $1.00 to support the partnership with the trades.
“This partnership will enable us to offer a newly constructed home at a price local families can afford, while also supporting careers in the trades,” says Monica. “SNP plans to donate a percentage of proceeds from the home sale to establish a fund at the Community Foundation in support of the Building Trades program.”
The new construction project will be the third housing project currently in progress by SNP, which is more good news for potential homebuyers in Sturgis. The program will make the dream of homeownership a reality for more people like Laura, who went on to successfully purchase an SNP home shortly after her discouraging housing search began.
“My mom was familiar with Sturgis Neighborhood Program and encouraged me to reach out to them,” she says. “Luckily, they actually had a house undergoing renovations at that time.”
With SNP’s help, Laura was able to purchase her very first home, a complete gut-rehab that felt brand new, for a price her budget could afford.
“I felt so accomplished that day,” she says. “I felt like my life was starting. I finally had something that was my own.”
As a resource and leader in local philanthropy, the Community Foundation always seeks to connect local residents like you to meaningful projects and causes you care about. If you are interested in learning more about local housing needs, Foundation programs, or our partnership with the Sturgis Neighborhood Program, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.