Habitat for Humanity welcomes new leader

CHARLESTOWN - Habitat for Humanity has welcomed a new face as its executive director. Colin Penney took over the position on Oct. 30 after a nationwide search. Penney takes over the post from Lou Raymond, who is set to retire later this year after 15 years of service to the Charlestown non-profit organization, a branch of the nationwide non-profit which seeks to provide affordable, quality housing for all.  In announcing the appointment, Val Henry, president of the South County Habitat for Humanity Board of Directors, was excited to welcome Habitat’s new leader. “We are extremely excited to welcome Colin to South County Habitat,” Henry said. “We look forward to his leadership as we work together continuing in our mission of providing affordable housing in our community.”Henry went on to say the search for a new executive director led South County Habitat on a nationwide exploration of candidates that included over 150 applicants. Of that pool, Penney was the organization’s top choice. Penney comes to South County Habitat with over 15 years of experience in non-profits and affordable housing, and has extensive experience working with Habitat for Humanity various chapters across the country, both as a volunteer and staff member. Most recently, he served as the program director for Habitat for Humanity of Mahoning Valley in the Youngstown area of Ohio. Youngstown, Ohio is currently one of the most affordable places in the country to live – a stark contrast from the pricey real estate market of New England.

“Land [in northern Ohio] has very little value because there’s lots of it available,” Penney said when asked what would be different between the two locations. “Working in a community where oftentimes the land is just as valuable as the materials you’re putting onto it adds an additional challenge to affordability in the area. And as land values continue to increase as more and more people want to move to such a wonderful area, that lack of land and access to land is definitely going to be an ongoing challenge that Habitat will be facing.”   Penney became dedicated to combatting homelessness while studying sociology and anthropology at Ohio Wesleyan University, working with the Columbus, Ohio homeless population and studying how city growth and new infrastructure had triggered a system in which low-income individuals were forced from their homes and into the streets. While working as Mahoning Valley Habitat for Humanity’s Program Director, Penney was directly responsible for all of the organizations volunteer recruitment and training and selection of homebuyers. Working directly with those preparing to become homeowners for the first time, Penney assisted with mortgages, loans and payment collection.

As executive director for South County Habitat, Penney will oversee all operations of the non-profit organization.

“A lot of my experience, particularly on the loan and mortgage side, is something we’re really looking to remodel with the new affiliate and take the affiliate in a new direction to try to simplify and bring a lot of that [work] in-house,” he said. “It will be a big benefit.”

“I’m really looking forward to getting to know the community,” Penney continued. “Habitat really is a community-based organization, we couldn’t do it without our hundreds and hundreds of volunteers and all the donations that are coming everywhere from the University of Rhode Island to local businesses to community members who want to take that time either swinging a hammer or open their wallets to make a donation. I’m really looking forward to integrating myself into that community, getting to know as many folks as I can and figure out what the biggest need is in affordable housing.”   

When asked about those housing needs unique to South County and New England, Penney spoke to the effect short-term rentals have had on the local housing market.

“I think one of the really unique housing issues in South County is the kind of housing carousel,” he said. “Where there’s individuals who might not qualify for traditional home loans through a bank but are very stable financially and just aren’t quite ready for that next step, and as a result, they’re forced to rent. With the nine-month academic rental paired with the three-month summer rental, finding consistent, year-round housing is incredibly difficult and very expensive and adds a lot of stress to individual families.”  Being a native New Englander originally from Vermont, Penney is excited to return to the northeast.

“I have been fortunate to build with so many Habitat affiliates across the country, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to return to New England and serve a community so close to where I was raised,” the new executive director said. “I have seen the impact Habitat has on the lives of its homeowners, the hearts of its volunteers, and the spirit of the local community it serves. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting involved as quickly as possible.”

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