Building Foundations

Habitat for Humanity constructs homes with families in need.

For the past eight years, carpenter Mark Saito has volunteered his skills and time to Habitat for Humanity.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Eight years ago, on a whim, carpenter Mark Saito went to a Habitat for Humanity build. Once there, Saito says, “I saw that they really could use more experienced help.  So I kept coming out.”

After attending three builds, Saito was made a site supervisor, and he has continued to dedicate his Saturdays to Habitat for Humanity. He’s now Honolulu Habitat for Humanity’s volunteer construction manager. HHH is a nonprofit affiliated with Habitat for Humanity International and uses local resources, including volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materials, to provide houses for low-income families in Hawaii who would never be able to own a home otherwise.

Habitat homes are sold at no profit to partnering families for approximately $85,000. Small monthly payments, covering the mortgage, taxes and insurance, are repaid over a 20-year period. These payments are deposited into a revolving “Fund for Humanity” which helps pay for the construction of future homes.

Families have to add something else: what Habitat calls “sweat equity.” Families that have been approved for a home must spend 250 hours working to build other people’s homes, before investing 250 more hours into the construction of their own house. Saito explains, “The future homeowner is an absolute beginner. This [kind of experience] helps prepare them for building their own homes.” HHH volunteers and families work on all aspects of the house, he says, “from the foundation to the framing to the roof plywood and shingles.”

Because one requirement to be approved for a Habitat home is land to build on, HHH almost always works with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands who provide land. Landowners in Hawaii probably don’t meet the income requirements for an HHH house. “This presents challenges,” says Christine Ho, HHH’s fund development officer. “On the Mainland, you can just move farther away from the city to find cheaper land.” In Papakolea, HHH often tears down old Hawaiian Homestead structures to build new homes. Five years ago, the organization built 45 homes in Kapolei Homesteads.  

HHH has completed 61 homes since it was established in 1998. This month, the group starts a build in Papakolea, and plans two projects on Lanai this summer.

“Anytime I see the families that I built with,” says Saito, “it brings tears to my eyes because I was there helping them lay out the foundation all the way to the end. That is why I started doing this, to give people a home, a gift.”                   

For more information, visit On Aug. 23, HHH will host a Build-a-Thon, for which volunteers collect pledges to sponsor their work at a building site.