Clark Shapes Mission for Habitat For Humanity

By Allison Buckley

Micheal Clark is the family services director at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis, a role he has held since 2004.


(Photo: Lance Murphey)

In this position he has been able to shape the family services department into what it is today – a low-income family’s chance of a lifetime with an 80 percent success rate.

“(Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis) is extremely important in Memphis because 25 percent of the residents in Memphis are living at or below the poverty lever and there is 9.9 percent unemployment in Shelby County,” Clark said.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis was created in 1983 by a group of concerned citizens who were aware of Habitat and felt the city of Memphis was in serious need of decent, affordable housing.

Memphis is one of more than 1,700 affiliates in the U.S. and 550 international affiliates that build more than 3,000 communities throughout the world. Since its inception in the early 1980s, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis has built almost 400 homes.

Clark came to Habitat hoping to volunteer his 18 years of mortgage experience; however, after speaking to Dwayne Spencer, executive director at Habitat, Clark was informed of a full-time employment opportunity.

After rounds of interviews and the green light from his wife, Clark accepted the position of director of family services and he’s been happy ever since.

“I love it. I don’t think that I could even dream up a better job than what I am doing now,” Clark said. “It gives me great pleasure to be working for an organization that really is out to serve the community.”

Habitat for Humanity International was founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller in Americus, Ga. Habitat’s affiliates are nonprofit organizations recognized by local citizens and operate with local boards and volunteers. The goal is to give families living in substandard housing a chance to achieve home ownership.

Volunteers, along with the future homeowners, participate in construction, using money and materials donated by corporate and individual donors.

Through the years, Clark has been able to take part in the construction of Habitat’s housing, something he said has been a great experience. Clark learned how to hang windows and doors – things he had never had experience in before he came to Habitat.

Besides building homes, Clark has been able to build relationships. The move-in process takes about 15 weeks – plenty of time to get to know the family moving in.

“People think that we just give away homes but our homeowners go through a rigorous process to get to the point where they’re moving in,” Clark said.

That process starts with an open application orientation, which takes place the first Monday of each month, first at noon and then again at 6 p.m.

At the orientation, applicants learn how the program works and turn in applications, along with supporting financial documents.

If applicants are chosen, they begin their 350 hours of “sweat equity” and 15 weeks of financial fitness and homeownership classes. Following the classes, the homeowner hopefuls have a test and a graduation and are then responsible for a down payment and held under a temporary occupancy agreement.

After three to six months, ownership is transferred to the participants, along with a zero percent interest rate and the choice of a 20-, 30- or 40-year mortgage. After this has occurred, the homeowners are responsible for the maintenance of their property and responsible for making their mortgage payments.

“We feel like because we have taken the extra step that our success rate is going to be better with the families that we’re dealing with,” Clark said. “To have 80 percent of them being successful, that’s incredible.”

Primarily, Habitat moves applicants into new construction. In fact, Habitat recently moved 33 families into two new Habitat subdivisions called Lake Las Cruces and Trinity Park.

However, Clark said Habitat has begun addressing the issue of blight by going into abandoned or poorly conditioned housing and refurbishing them to bring them back to a condition where applicants can live in a decent home. This is one way Clark feels Habitat will impact the world.

“The other thing I see Habitat bringing people together that have either cultural or religious differences and working towards one common cause, which is once again to eliminate substandard conditions across the world,” Clark said. “I went to New Orleans to work at a site. I saw churches that were Catholic and Muslim communities, people from the Jewish synagogues – they were all working together on a home without any kind of conflict.”