Habitat Families Build Stability

Habitat Families Build Stability

Habitat for Humanity provides homes for 12 families at new condominium project in Fairfax.

When Kadijha Moharam and her family began running out of money, they made some changes to their already modest lifestyle. When that didn't work, they almost lost hope.

Moharam heard about Habitat for Humanity — a nonprofit organization that builds homes for those in need — from a friend. At the time she first inquired, her family owned a townhouse in the City of Fairfax. They were on the verge of selling it, though, since they could not afford it anymore, and Habitat for Humanity was Moharam’s first sign of hope.

“I was looking at our life, and I had this fear of the future, then I contacted Habitat,” she said.

It wasn’t long before Moharam realized her family qualified for a Habitat home. She filled out the application and waited. Her family had already rented an old house, and its condition, along with their funds, began to deteriorate. Moharam’s home daycare business that had boomed in Annandale, now struggled in Fairfax. Her sister became ill and required full-time care. Moharam was overwhelmed, and then she got the call.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “Believe me, I can’t wait. I’ve been through a lot.”

Moharam, her husband, Safwat, and their two children, Ahmed, 16, and Tarik, 14, are future residents at the 12 new condominiums being constructed at the intersection of Lee Highway and Waples Mill Road. Kadijha Moharam said her 88-year-old father would also be living there with them. The project, called Westbrook Forest, is Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia’s first condominium project in the region, said Virginia Patton, a Habitat spokeswoman.

“Just because of the cost of land, we can obviously build more homes on one lot if we build condos,” she said.

But the condominiums are not necessarily a trend just yet. Karen Cleveland, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Northern Virginia, said the organization doesn’t follow an exact model for its construction projects, it just tries to stay in tune with the area.

“We will build whatever fits into the neighborhoods,” she said.

WESTBROOK FOREST is adjacent to another condominium development, and it's just a couple hundred feet from a Habitat townhouse development. The vacant lot on an adjacent property is already designated for a nine-unit Habitat project.

While the organization provides a lot for those in need, it is not free. Habitat residents must cover the cost of their home and qualify for a zero-interest mortgage, said Cleveland. They also have to provide what she calls, “sweat equity,” meaning future residents have to physically help build their home too. After some instruction from Sandlot University — Habitat’s education program — residents begin working toward 300 to 500 hours of labor, depending on the number of people who will live in the home.

The selection process can be tough, for both applicants and the Habitat staff, she said. The organization sends out a meeting notice to people on a wait list. The meeting is informational, detailing the project’s location and style. People then apply and must meet certain criteria to be selected. While an applicant’s credit does not need to be perfect, it has to be decent, said Cleveland. Residents can only make 20 to 60 percent of the region’s median income, and they must have a history of paying rent or other bills.

“We pick the families we feel are best suited for those units, and who are the most needy at that point in time,” said Cleveland. “The hardest thing is to tell those other folks that have taken the time to fill out those applications that they didn’t get [a home].”

In addition to the future residents, a contractor and volunteers are also building the development. A contractor came in and put up the exterior walls and about 20 percent of the interior construction, said Walt Coleman, a five-year volunteer builder for Habitat. Since many of the volunteers do not have professional building experience, Coleman said everyone shares knowledge.

“There are a huge number of [volunteer] opportunities that Habitat has,” said Coleman.

A huge trailer parked in the back of the site is equipped with all of the necessary tools. Each item is carefully labeled, so any volunteer can easily find what he or she needs. Kadijha Moharam said she learns something new every time she works at the site.

“Each time we work we learn something,” said Kadijha Moharam. “It’s amazing.”

Kadijha Moharam said the first day at work was overwhelming. It was not because of the amount of work or the task at hand, it was because of what she saw.

“I cried the whole day because I saw all these wonderful people trying to help people,” she said.

That is exactly why Coleman and other volunteers do what they do. Not only is Habitat a great organization, said Coleman, it is also a great thing to do in Fairfax County since housing costs are so high. He said the condominium model has a lot of merit here, just from a practical standpoint.

“It’s a great way to get 12 families under a nice roof,” said Coleman.

After all of the moving around from place to place, Kadijha Moharam wants this to be the last stop for a while. The construction is tentatively scheduled to wrap up late this summer. She hopes to move in by September.

“I never felt stability in my life,” she said. “I’m hoping with this home we’re going to be stable finally. My kids are saying the same thing.”