Firelands Habitat for Humanity projects aim to address area housing needs

Since 1990, Firelands Habitat for Humanity has made it a mission to provide simple, quality homes for low-income families in Erie and Huron counties. Over the years, the organization has completed the building of 113 homes with the aid of donors, volunteers and partner families.

Houses No. 114 and 115 are current build projects, the former in Sandusky and the latter in Monroeville. Two additional projects are slated for the very near future, both in Sandusky. They are part of a more ambitious goal compared to recent years, says Firelands Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Ryan Hodges.

“We’re going to try to build four homes in a year,” he says. “Because we understand that Sandusky has a real concern with housing right now, and we’re trying to help out with that. Granted, it’s adding just one more house to our construction schedule, but if that’s what we can do to help, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Habitat for Humanity, now an international entity with a presence in 70 countries around the globe, was founded in 1976. It’s a non-profit that receives support from governments, philanthropic groups, corporations, media organizations and private donors.

When in proper stride, the local outlet over the years has averaged about three new homes built annually. In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Firelands Habitat for Humanity built two homes, faced with increased material costs and a smaller number of volunteers because of restrictions and safety concerns.

Even as pandemic-related challenges waned, the organization faced some new ones. Competition for property on which to build homes can be fierce in the post-pandemic market, Hodges says, and they’ve been outbid on buildable lots they attempted to purchase.

In 2023, however, the Sandusky Land Bank made the acquisition of lots more accessible.

“The Sandusky Land Bank changed their purchase requirements for their land-bank properties, and we wanted to take advantage of that, maybe to guarantee places to build in Erie County for the next couple of years,” Hodges says. “We purchased eight lots from the City of Sandusky to build six homes. Some of those lots were a little bit smaller, so we had to combine them. But that’s kind of guaranteed ourselves with places to build for the next two years.”

The land bank has standardized its pricing structure in order to stimulate new investment in properties where demolitions of previous residential structures have occurred. The changes also involve reduced pricing for non-buildable side lots, as well as uniformity in pricing for vacant, buildable lots, says Sandusky Land Bank administrator Debi Eversole, who noted the effect Habitat for Humanity has had.

“We appreciate the focus that Firelands Habitat for Humanity has on our community,” she says. “Together, we can identify suitable property which will result in families living in their own home in Sandusky.”

Foundation for a new Habitat home is installed on West Broad Street in Monroeville.Searching outside of the land bank for available properties is certainly more challenging these days, Hodges says.

“I can’t say enough about those people downtown,” Hodges says. “They’re just so easy to work with and have made this opportunity just blossom for us.”

Erie and Huron counties continue to face a need for housing for lower-income households, Hodges says. And with the ambition of ramping up construction volumes comes the need for more volunteers.

Hodges, who’s been on the job for about a year now, said that once largely inactive social media platforms – Facebook and Instagram, mainly – have been reinvigorated with efforts to help recruit volunteers to aid in building homes. Also, the organization’s ReStore, which sells gently used home furnishings, appliances, and building materials, can always use workers.

The pertinent email address to contact Firelands Habitat for Humanity is “all over our website,” (, Hodges says, and he personally engages with every email sent.

Right now, Hodges and his team rely on about 12 steady, committed volunteers who help build the homes, as well as upon the “sweat equity” of the households for whom each home is built. Candidates for the no-interest loans that help acquire homes for themselves must first work – and learn – on other projects. But if the goal of more homes per year is to be met, more help is needed.

“The easiest way that a lot of people like to get involved is, honestly, to fund the mission. They like to send us a check, and that’s great,” Hodges says. “That’s wonderful, and we appreciate everything they’re doing.”

But the immediate need is for hands-on help with building homes.

Volunteers to help with the builds need no prior experience. Plenty of helping hands approach the organization with little-to-no backgrounds in construction, and Firelands Habitat for Humanity provides training. Hodges says that someone could drive by an ongoing project, stop their car and ask about chipping in, and the manager will stop what they’re doing to explain how a newcomer can help.

“We’re very welcoming,” Hodges says.