John Litten says he walked into “an incredible situation” when he reported for duty as the new president and CEO of Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity this past October. Habitat had already completed 28 new houses for local families in 2022.
Litten says he feels fortunate for the opportunity to continue down the pathway paved by his predecessor, John Habat, who stepped down.
“My top goals are to continue the current momentum of building and rehabbing homes for families…and to learn,” he says. “I appreciate Habitat’s simple and forthright mission.”
That mission came to life when a family came into the office to take the final steps toward homeownership.
“When the first family came in to sign their mortgage documents, I saw firsthand how the whole place stopped to honor them, share in the moment and cheer them on,” he says. “The construction staff was waiting at the home to welcome them in and hand over the keys.”
Habitat’s mission is to help people purchase safe, healthy homes at an affordable price in Cuyahoga and Lorain counties. Last year, the average monthly mortgage payment for families in Cleveland was $490, including taxes and insurance. Everyone who qualifies for a Habitat home must put in “sweat equity,” which can be earned by working alongside the building team, volunteering in the ReStore and completing homebuyer education courses. Last year, more than 41,458 volunteer hours were logged.
Welcoming a new CEO is not the only thing that’s new for the home-building organization. On Sept. 30, it acquired Habitat for Humanity of Lorain County. One of the first priorities was to reopen the popular Amherst ReStore home improvement thrift store in Amherst, which had been closed since March 2022. Habitat operates two other ReStores in Cuyahoga County — one in North Randall and one on the West Side of Cleveland.
The opening of the Lorain County store makes it much easier for residents of the county to access the affordable, quality building supplies and home furnishings available at the ReStore and marks the first of many services the organization plans to bring to the county.
“The Amherst ReStore far exceeded expectations on its opening day,” adds Litten. “All of our stores are great resources for donations, especially for people who may be downsizing or purchasing new furniture. We also provide free pick up.”
The initial stage of growth into Lorain County has been met with great excitement, says Litten.
“We’re energized by the reinstatement of services, like our homeownership program, and we look forward to Lorain County residents having access to our ReStore treasures, as well as opportunities to volunteer and donate to Habitat programs within the community,” he adds.
In Lorain County, 25% of households (30,757 households) are paying more than 30% of their income toward housing costs. And 77% of the households (23,821 households) that are paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs earn less than $35,000, meaning those individuals would qualify for the Greater Cleveland Habitat homeownership program.
Litten is looking forward to rebuilding the organization’s presence in Lorain. He says they will be adding a Lorain County board member in the near future and are also starting to reach out to Lorain County corporations and foundations.
“The money raised in Lorain will stay in Lorain [if a donor designates it for Lorain County, it will remain in Lorain County],” he says. “That includes corporate and foundation fund raising, as well as proceeds from the ReStore.”
Along with these new opportunities come challenges. Inflation and other economic factors are creating complications with hiring, as well as with purchasing and supply issues for construction materials.
“They were already a challenge — some materials have doubled and tripled in price,” explains Litten. “We are also concerned about our families and their ability to keep up with their mortgages. We do everything we can do to prepare them for homeownership, which has enabled around 95% of Habitat homeowners to remain in their houses.”