Earlier this year, Ken Cross was trying to figure out how Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento could raise the roughly $75,000 needed to finish up its ambitious Indian Lane Development, a multimillion-dollar project across from the Florin Road light-rail station in south Sacramento.
Construction started in 2013, and by January of this year, nine of the 14 homes already had secured a coveted platinum certification from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design group. But the 14th and final home still needed a lead sponsor with enough seed money to make it feasible to start building.
“I just thought, ‘How are we going to get this thing closed out?’” recalled Cross, CEO of the local Habitat chapter. “And, that day, I got a call from back East, from one of my fellow executive directors, and he said, ‘I may have an opportunity for you.’”
As a tribute to Pope Francis, a donor was ready to provide $60,000 toward building a home, as long as Sacramento Habitat met certain conditions. The nonprofit would have to solicit $40,000 from the local Roman Catholic community, and most importantly, the donor would have to remain anonymous.
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“They didn’t tell me a name, and I’m not asking for a name,” Cross said. “The heart with which this is being given really speaks to the donor’s intention. It’s always easy to get the recognition and the limelight, but a true philanthropist is one who gives and stays behind the scenes. ... They get the work done and encourage others to do the same. This is really extraordinary.”
What Cross has since found out is that the same donor is offering the same gift to Habitat affiliates across the country, including a new gift to the Bakersfield affiliate. Each recipient chronicles its home’s progress on Twitter under the topic #PopeFrancisHouse. There are posts from Buffalo, N.Y.; Lousville, Ky.; and roughly a dozen others.
The donor helping the Sacramento chapter is offering the same gift to Habitat affiliates across the country.
Every year, Habitat for Humanity of Metro Louisville puts a plan together for how many homes it wants to build, executive director Rob Locke said in a phone interview. This year, it hopes to construct 25, Locke said. The anonymous donor’s challenge gift has seeded two of them.
Without this donation, he said, Somali immigrant Ahmed Xasan and his family of eight would not have been able to buy a new home for the price they’re paying for the Pope Francis house. Habitat buyers receive a 30-year mortgage at zero interest, and the payments, insurance and property taxes are calculated to ensure that no more than 30 percent of their monthly income will go toward housing.
0 Interest rate for 30-year mortgage
30 Maximum percent of monthly income to pay for housing
“We have Catholic volunteers working with a Muslim homebuyer and some agnostic volunteer leaders,” Locke said, “and somewhere in that, they all make up their mind that God loves all of us and we are all children of God. The barriers of race and religion and ethnicity and culture all fall away when the currency is hard work.”
Habitat for Humanity Buffalo just poured the foundation for its Pope Francis House. Executive director Kate Whitlock said the anonymous donation created a pathway to reach out to Catholic parishes, schools and fraternal organizations. Louisville’s Locke said he was approached by the Ursulines shortly after receiving the gift.
In Sacramento, Cross said, the money has provided a chance to make new acquaintances and to nurture long-standing ones. He told Habitat volunteers from Elk Grove’s Knights of Columbus Council 7241 about the challenge gift, and they quickly pitched in with a $1,000 donation.
Cross said his staff is in the process of finding a family for the Pope Francis House.
Volunteers are framing the second floor and putting on the roof, he said, and they are shooting to dedicate the home on Sept. 26.
Why that day? Well, Cross said, the pope will be visiting the United States that week, and it seemed like a wonderful way for Catholics and all of the faith community to celebrate.
Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.