VALDOSTA – The future of the Valdosta-Lowndes Habitat for Humanity is unsure as the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep across Georgia, according to organizers.
Habitat agencies statewide have had to shut down operations and conduct layoffs, but Molly Ferrier, Valdosta executive director, said she hopes it doesn’t come to that for the local nonprofit.
“I’m scared, but I’m hopeful,” she said. “... Because of our community, we are still here today, and I think that we will be able to get through this with our community."
With nine employees depending on the Valdosta Habitat for paychecks, the organization has made adjustments.
Three families await completion of their homes, but Habitat has canceled any current builds to minimize expenses and to keep volunteers safe.
The organization pays for clients' homeowners insurance but relies on mortgage payments to go toward business operations and staff pay, Ferrier said.
Habitat has 135 active mortgages at the moment. Depending on the payments is a concern when some people have lost jobs.
Ferrier said a a client, a Valdosta State University staff member, has consistently paid her mortgage on time each month but has recently been laid off from her position until fall.
“She is concerned about what is going to happen to her because she’s worked really hard for her home,” Ferrier said. “I reassured her that we would work with her as much as possible.”
Ferrier said she believes the community has reached a time of unchartered territory and affordable housing will suffer.
“It’s hard for people who don’t have safe, decent, affordable housing to shelter-in-place,” she said. “I don’t know what the answer is, but I think that affordable housing is going to take a major hit with this.”
Habitat has closed its ReStore and has paused entering into people’s homes to retrieve donations.
Ferrier said while the agency is dependent upon the funding and donations received, the health and safety of employees are a priority.
“My goal is to keep us healthy and with paychecks for as long as possible,” she said.
Officials from the city, county and state have urged residents to stay home to hinder the spread of the virus.
City and county leaders announced a voluntary shelter-in-place order Tuesday morning.
Ferrier joins the push to shut down for two weeks.
“Honestly, I think that in order for us to stop this, we need a consolidated mandated effort to shut down completely,” she said.
“I think shutting down for two weeks is going to have far less of an impact on our economy than dragging this out and continuing to let it be voluntary.”
While Ferrier said Habitat can afford to close for two weeks right now, available finances to do so in the future is uncertain.
“I would like to go ahead and shut it down, but if it’s just my office doing it, it’s not going to create the impact that it needs to,” she said.
The Habitat office is currently closed to the public.
Donations are accepted via checks, PayPal and through the newly formed South Georgia Collective project. The project spearheaded by Ascend Inbound Marketing and gathers donations for nonprofits, Ferrier said.
More information is on the Valdosta-Lowndes Habitat for Humanity Facebook page and at (229) 245-1330.
Ferrier has one final statement to the public.
“Stay home if you can,” she said. “If you can’t, just be safe and say a prayer.”