People Of Housing Security:
Volunteer turned staff member finds fulfillment in
making a difference in people’s lives.
2023 marks the 35th year of Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County building affordable homes for families in Monroe County.
Martha Shedd first discovered Habitat for Humanity on a van tour of one of the Habitat neighborhoods in 2005. Since that tour, Martha has dedicated the past 18 years to volunteering and building houses alongside the Habitat team. She is a self-proclaimed Johnny Appleseed!
While volunteering at Habitat, Martha worked in various jobs. She worked with Schurz Communications for 15 years. Her volunteer work at Habitat paved the way for her to eventually work full time in the construction industry. Martha went from being a construction volunteer to owning a commercial roofing company while also working as a Project Manager in the architects office at Indiana University. She most recently worked as a Program Manager for the U.S. Navy at NSWC Crane. When asked why she left, she responded: “Staring at spreadsheets wasn’t making a difference in anyone’s life.”
Making a direct impact in people’s lives is what has fueled Martha’s zeal for volunteering. Her favorite part of serving with the Habitat team has been hearing the stories of families. “You hear their stories, and you think: ‘Why am I not helping them every day?’” Martha said. That’s when she decided to apply for an opening at Habitat for Humanity a year and a half ago.
She currently serves as the Homeowner Services Director at Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County. Her role involves fielding calls about homeownership. She helps prospective homeowners with applications. Once they are accepted into the program she assists them through their journey to homeownership.
Eligibility for Habitat for Humanity Homes is defined in 4 categories:
- Applicants need to have lived or worked in Monroe County for a year.
- Applicants must have a need for housing. A need for housing is defined as living in a substandard, overcrowded, unaffordable home or experiencing homelessness.
- Applicants must have a willingness to partner and to get 250 hours of sweat equity. Sweat equity is built through hours working on construction sites or at Habitat’s Restore.
- Applicants must be able to pay an affordable mortgage. Affordability is defined as spending 30% of income on housing.
“You can hear their stories, and think: ‘why am I not helping them Every day?’ “
– Martha Shedd
Habitat Homes are unique to other homes because they offer homeowners zero percentage interest loans. This helps keep homes affordable.
A recent challenge to Habitat’s mission to create affordable housing has been the proposed increase on property tax. Martha mentioned that Habitat staff are concerned that this could endanger Habitat homeowners. Though their mortgage is set at an affordable rate, increasing property taxes could drastically change their residents’ ability to pay their mortgage. Martha is concerned this might put people at risk of housing insecurity.
She mentioned how there are many exemptions for unique groups and circumstances, such as exemptions for disabled veterans, those 65 years and older, and those blind or disabled. However, there are no exemptions for those who are low income. Martha said she is dedicated to advocating for low-income property tax deductions to help maintain affordable housing for those vulnerable residents.
With the steady increase of people struggling to find affordable housing, Martha said that last fall Habitat had a record-breaking number of 27 households who applied and qualified for the program. With a limit on how many households they could accept into the program, the staff had to cut down the list to accept 20 households. “We had to decide who needed housing more and it was heart wrenching,” Martha said.
Martha has testified how she has seen people’s lives changed by having a stable and affordable place to call home. Over the past 35 years, Habitat for Humanity has built 220 homes. Of those, 85% of Habitat homeowners have stayed in their homes.
Martha recalled one story of a single mother working as a janitor who was able to help her daughter attend an out-of-state college. This mother told Martha that her daughter attending college would not have been possible without the stability that their Habitat home brought them.
Stories like this drive Martha’s passion for building affordable homes. She encourages the community to consider volunteering on a build day. She is looking forward to Women+ Build, a joint fundraiser and volunteering opportunity for multiple teams of women to build 2 homes in 1 month! This year, Women+Build is happening from Sept. 6-23. You can sign up here. Martha says Women+Build is the best time of every year. She enjoys meeting women from all walks of life who come together to make a difference in the community.
In her free time, Martha enjoys traveling with her husband, J T. Forbes. She exclaimed that her mom would say she has “go-itis”! Martha is always on the move for a new adventure. She also enjoys bicycling and going to see and listen to live music.
About the People of Housing Security: This series highlights the work of those committed to improving the lives of residents in South Central Indiana. Find all the articles in this series here.