This Insights article is co-authored by Steve Spain, Executive Director of Cape Fear Habitat for Humanity.
Sometimes, when people hear about WARM’s mission, they immediately compare us to the more well-known international housing nonprofit, Habitat for Humanity (HFH). The similarities are clear; we both assist low-income families and individuals with housing issues and rely heavily on donations and volunteers. However, our missions, clients, and roles in hurricane recovery are very different.
In simplest terms, HFH’s mission is to provide opportunities for families to purchase homes while WARM’s mission is to keep homeowners in their homes by making urgent repairs.
HFH fulfills its mission by raising funds and coordinating volunteers to offset the cost of land and construction, then offering an affordable loan and financial counseling to give the family a good start at homeownership. Cape Fear HFH has served more than 200 families since its founding in 1987.
By comparison, WARM does smaller jobs for more families. We fulfill our mission by raising funds and coordinating volunteers to complete home repairs, rebuilding, and accessibility upgrades. Helping keep a family in their home can cost $2-3,000 for accessibility and safety upgrades to over $30,000 for rehabilitation of essential functions. WARM was founded in 1996 and just last month began our 1300th rebuild.
Both organizations have strict qualifications that ensure we reach those who demonstrate a true need and are capable of long-term homeownership.
HFH’s future homeowners must:
- earn 30-80% of the area’s median income (AMI) to afford the mortgage
- reside or work for at least one year prior to application in one of the counties they serve (Duplin, New Hanover, and Pender) and be legal residents of the US
- currently live in unaffordable, subsidized, or substandard housing, or experience homelessness
- be unable to qualify for a conventional mortgage
- partner through “sweat equity” and homeowner education
WARM’s homeowners must:
- earn 10-50% of AMI; special grant-funded programs may have their own limits
- own and occupy the home for three years or more; they must have built up equity in the home (most have lived in their homes for decades and have paid off their mortgages)
- reside in one of the counties we serve (Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender)
- need legitimate safety/health repairs, accessibility upgrades, and/or storm recovery
- participate through writing thank-you notes, recruiting volunteers, or helping with repairs physically or financially
Both organizations’ boards of directors have decided to go where our community needs us the most. Right now, that means helping the community recover from Hurricanes Matthew and Florence. We help families directly and provide leadership in county specific Long-Term Disaster Recovery Groups, made up of other nonprofits, churches, and government entities.
CFHFH began its hurricane response efforts by working with the Baptists on Mission to “muck & gut” flooded homes immediately after Hurricane Florence. Since then, they have adapted their program and qualifications to meet the demands for new homeownership among those who lost their housing in Florence. They have also started a hurricane recovery rebuild program with the same income limits, 30-80% of AMI, with a maximum amount of $35,000 per home. Partnerships with homeowners include financing agreements, sweat equity, and commitment to purchase appropriate insurance against future damage.
WARM was founded after Hurricane Fran. Immediately following Hurricane Matthew, our board decided to commit resources to disaster recovery. Since Hurricane Florence, we have added staff to accommodate the increase in applications, funding, and volunteers. Income limits remain 10-50% and are free or require a forgivable loan. If homeowners have received a FEMA home repair award or homeowner’s insurance proceeds, those funds must be used for rebuilding. While addressing hurricane damage, WARM makes pre-storm repairs to ensure the home is safe for years to come.
Our similarities point us toward a common goal: to help our region recover from Florence. Our differences help us address the needs of hundreds of unique individuals and families, ensuring no one gets left behind.
JC Lyle has served as WARM’s Executive Director since January 2009. Under her leadership, WARM's annual revenue and productivity have more than quadrupled. Prior to working in the nonprofit sector, Lyle worked at McKim & Creed on subdivision design, rezoning and permitting throughout coastal North Carolina. Lyle earned her Master of Business Administration from UNCW's Cameron School of Business and has presented workshops on affordable housing issues and nonprofit management at state-level conferences. Lyle serves on the Planning Commission for the City of Wilmington and the North Carolina Housing Partnership, the board that oversees the state's housing trust fund. In 2012, Lyle was named Wilma Magazine's first Woman to Watch in the Nonprofit Category. In 2014, she accepted WARM's Coastal Entrepreneur Award in the Nonprofit Category, given by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and UNCW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. In 2018, the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Cape Fear Chapter named her Outstanding Fundraiser of the Year.