Building homes and hope with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County

Posted by Samantha Haas on Monday, June 17th, 2019 at 3:50pm.

Eight members of the Mad City Dream Homes and RE/MAX Preferred teams volunteered with Habitat for Humanity of Dane County for a build day in Fitchburg this spring.

They joined Habitat construction site supervisors Greg Kazda, Allissa Tway, and Chad Moen and regular volunteer Greg Louden by installing siding and flooring in two Habitat homes along Unity Lane in the Renaissance On The Park neighborhood.

One of the future homeowners, Tara Rai, was working right alongside the group as he often does -- well exceeding the minimum amount of sweat equity hours required by Habitat. Tara said his wife likes to garden and plans to plant tomatoes and potatoes in their backyard, and his daughter and son are looking forward to having their own bedrooms. The family also intends to use the bike path nearby along Dunn’s Marsh.

“I’m so excited,” Tara said. “Thank you so much for coming and working with us. Thank you for your help.”

Click to view more photos and a video from the build day.

Q/A with Habitat

We spoke with Valerie Johnson Renk, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, to learn more about the neighborhood, families, and Habitat home ownership process.

What is special about this neighborhood?

Both of these families that the RE/MAX folks built with are going to be in the Renaissance On The Park neighborhood, which is in Fitchburg. Families love this neighborhood because it’s by the Boys and Girls Club, so they’ll have great access to the daycare, after school care, and wonderful programs. But what we love about Renaissance On The Park is that it’s really accessible, it’s close to Madison, it’s right off the Beltline and Verona Road, and the houses are really cute. They’re well built, they’re wonderful.

How many homes have been built in this neighborhood and Dane County?

Here in Dane County, we’ve been partnering with families for just over 30 years to build their homes. We want people to hope that they can improve their community, and their family, and have a more stable life. There are 22 homes that are already built in the Renaissance On The Park neighborhood, two under construction right now, and 10 more are planned. Altogether, Habitat has partnered with companies like RE/MAX to build 287 homes for our families, and we’ve done dozens of more home repair projects. So that is how we stabilize families and stabilize neighborhoods through homeownership.

What can you tell us about the homeowner’s family that RE/MAX helped build with?

Tara and Guarani have two adorable children, and they originally came to the U.S. from Bhutan. That was back in 1992 when there was a civil war in Bhutan, so they went through a lot of things to get help, get over here, get started with their careers, work hard, and eventually apply for a Habitat home. They are really excited to be part of our neighborhood here in Dane County. Tara, the father, has already put in over 400 hours of sweat equity (that’s what we call working on our homes). They’re required to put in 375, but whatever we ask Tara to do -- come and speak to this group, come and help us with siding on this house -- he’s right there. So we’re very excited to have Tara and Guarani’s family as part of our Habitat program. You can read more about Tara and Guarani here

What about the neighboring family?

The second family that you helped build for is Lee and Yeng. They have four adorable girls, and the littlest is only four months old. They are also an immigrant family. The father, Yeng, was born in Laos, and his family had to move to Thailand in 2004 because his father was a soldier in the CIA in 1970. The mother, Lee, was actually born right here in Madison. So again, what a wonderful love story that is that they came together, had their family, and they’re very excited to have a better home and better conditions for their family. Their kids play soccer, and they’re looking forward to making new friends when they’re in their Habitat neighborhood.

How do you select the families?

When families are interested in partnering with Habitat, they come to a quarterly informational meeting. For two hours they hear all the details about what it takes to qualify, and if they are still standing after two hours, then we go through and have them meet with a staff member. A couple other requirements are they have to earn at least 30% of the Dane County median income but no more than 60%. So for a family of four right now, that’s in the neighborhood of $27,000-$52,000 -- enough money that they can make their mortgage payments, but not so much that they’re not deserving of a little help. They have to have the ability to pay a downpayment and continue making those mortgage payments for 30 years if they’re selected. We ask that they are citizens or permanent resident alien status, and they have to live here in Dane County before they apply to the program. The most important thing is that they have to have three years of positive and verifiable housing history, because we want you to be a good renter, because then that’s a pretty good indication that you’ll be a good homeowner. They have to have good credit, a minimum score of 620, and they have to show a need for housing and the ability to pay.

What is a need for housing?

It means that maybe they don’t live in a standard, safe, and healthy living condition right now. They’re probably in temporary housing or overcrowded living conditions. Their housing costs are probably over 30% of their gross monthly household income. Residing in inaccessible, subsidized, or traditional housing like Section 8 or Title 42 are other things that help people qualify a little bit more.

What is Habitat’s vision?

Our goal is to help more people get into homes so they can have a more stable family life and help stabilize the community, because ultimately we want more people thinking that if they work hard, yes they can improve their family’s life. Thank you so much to all the RE/MAX folks for coming out and building with us. Thanks to you we’re able to build more homes, more communities, and more hope here in Dane County.

To learn more about Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, the Habitat ReStore locations in Madison, and volunteer opportunities, visit

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