Conroe-based nonprofit Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County has a new executive director and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.
Executive Director Vicki Johnson began her position with Habitat last October, jumping into its ongoing project Cedar Creek—the first all-Habitat subdivision in Conroe along Frazier and Seventh streets.
“Nothing has been more rewarding than working on this community. … Not only are we trying to build community, but we’re helping families repair their homes,” Johnson said. “That includes people who were affected by disaster as well as families just trying but who are unable to maintain their homes.”
Johnson formerly worked with the John P. McGovern Museum of Health and Medical Science in Houston and before that in politics. Now she leads Habitat in providing zero-interest loans to qualifying families, ensuring affordable housing payments and paving a pathway out of poverty.
Habitat serves as a development, construction and mortgage company.
“There is a great need. As the county grows, I can only see that need growing even more for families,” Johnson said. “While this is great overall that the county is growing and there is an influx of industry, there’s still very much a need for everyday, low-income working families [to live here in Conroe].”
Building the Cedar Creek community
According to United Way of Greater Houston, 22 percent of Montgomery County households are unable to afford basic needs. Johnson said most of Cedar Creek’s residents fill positions such as school janitors, bus drivers or cafeteria managers.
Johnson said there are 10-14 families working on being accepted into the Habitat program, in which 350 sweat equity hours working on homes are required to earn a future home in Cedar Creek. By the subdivision’s planned 2022 completion, everyone who lives there will have helped build their neighbors’ houses.
Cedar Creek began construction in 2009 on 37 acres of privately donated land. Currently, 65 homes are completed—and 65 families moved in—out of a total 125 planned for the neighborhood. Johnson said from a community demographic standpoint, designing the Cedar Creek neighborhood with all-Habitat homes helps the community bond.
“In our history, Habitat for Humanity would find a lot of properties that needed work in various communities throughout the county, and there would be a Habitat house here or there,” Johnson said. “But when the land was gifted to us, we really saw the value in having 100 percent Habitat families … who are just like them, work every day and they’re their neighbor. When I know someone is just like me—invested in my community, the welfare of my children—it makes for a better community.”
The design of the homes—each unique with porches, driveways and masonry ranging from two to four bedrooms—passes through an architecture committee review, which Johnson said helps keep up the community’s integrity and trust.
Cedar Creek also has church and public partnership opportunities: it costs $60,000 minimum to sponsor one home. Inside Cedar Creek, John Cooper School in The Woodlands is sponsoring its 20th home with Habitat, and Anadarko Petroleum is on its 19th.
“Every home in this community was sponsored by a corporation or organization that acts as our base to grow our neighborhood and our community,” Johnson said. “That’s where all our base funding comes from. We rely heavily on our sponsors and our donors to help us.”
She said one of the main challenges Habitat faces is its triple role as community developer, mortgage company and construction company. But along the way, Johnson said Cedar Creek has seen many special successes.
“There have been stories of multiple families living in a small apartment or unit, sharing one bedroom in a house. Statistics [show]that kids do better when they’re in a home,” Johnson said. “When they know they have somewhere safe to call home, people thrive.”
Coming up May 4 is the nonprofit’s only fundraiser, the annual Building Hope gala, planned to be held at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott.
“My overall vision is to continue to do the good work we have been doing to look for new property opportunities to build another affordable subdivision for future Habitat families,” Johnson said.