U.S. Sen. Rob Portman working to save Habitat for Humanity money on appraisals

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Community development is already a hot button issue in Cleveland's upcoming mayoral election.

Many activists argue big investments continue to focus on the city's downtown, leaving struggling neighborhoods behind.

The president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity, John Habat, says the organization is the largest affordable home ownership program in Cleveland.

Republican U.S. Senator Rob Portman wants to save Habitat money when it comes to the cost of appraisals for its homes. He's introduced a bill which has been referred to the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs for further discussion.

"Habitat for Humanity can do what it does because of volunteers coming together offering their time, their talent and the financial resources," Habat said. "Anyway we can save is a great opportunity for us. If real estate appraisers want to donate their time again that will cut our costs by about $300 a house."

It could mean a potential total cost savings of more than a million dollars a year for Habitat affiliates across the country. Habat said those numbers add up and mean more opportunities to transform old houses in neighborhoods often overlooked.

Right now, the organization is rehabbing a home on Soika Avenue in the Woodland Hills neighborhood. The home was built in the late 1890s.

"We're doing good work [and] we're having fun doing it," said Ron Kear, an 18-year volunteer for Habitat.

The retired civil engineer has seen miracles unfold because of the hard work of volunteers and local businesses.

"Last year we had a family who said, 'I told my son he can memorize his address, because we've never been able to do that before,'" Habat said. "Because he moved 17 times in the last 10 years, and that really tugs at your heart."

While companies have committed to donating everything from roofing materials to appliances-- appraisals are something Habitat has had to pay market-rate for-- ever since Dodd-Frank financial reforms took hold several years ago.
Portman's bill guarantees appraisers have the ability to voluntarily donate their services.

"I think Portman has had a good listening ear," Kear said. "He hears what some of the needs are and he responds to those."

This year, the Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity plans to fully rehab between 32 and 35 homes. Last year they did 28.

"This is how you rebuild communities," Habat said. "You've got to  have invested homeowners whose kids are going to be in the same house year-after-year [and] going to the same schools year-after-year. Kids who come from stable homes don't quit school. They don't flunk out. Kids from stable homes graduate from high school and go on to higher education-- whether it's skills training or college."

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