In the grand scheme of things, it may not seem that much. But to 10 families in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood it was a big deal when they became homeowners on Saturday – at a time of economic recession and a housing market that is still reeling from its effects.

These homes, averaging three bedrooms and one bath each, are not free but they are the result of an initiative that makes them very affordable.  They cost between $100,000 and $133,000, required a down payment of about $1,500 and the monthly mortgage payment is about 30 percent of a family’s total income or between $650 and $900.

In addition, each homeowner was required to give “sweat equity” – actually work on the construction of the home – for 250 hours if single and 300 hours if a couple.

The organization behind the initiative is Habitat for Humanity, a U.S.-based non-profit home building organization that pursues its mission through branches in various parts of the county and, to a less extent, the world.  Its best known supporters are former President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter but its heroes are the men and women who make it happen.

Habitat for Humanity’s effectiveness can be seen in its work in Miami-Dade County.  Since the organization began building homes in the county in 1989, it has helped 800 families realize their dream of owning a home, using land donated by Miami-Dade and a large pool of volunteers.

Last July 1, Habitat for Humanity launched a three-year “Liberty City Shine” project which has seen a total of 28 families move into their own homes.  Within the next two years, an additional 250 families will benefit through either getting their own homes or help to rehabilitate their homes and lawns.

But what Habitat for Humanity is doing is more than just putting a roof over the heads of people who would otherwise never own a home.  The organization is, in fact, giving people a stake in the system, raising hopes for a brighter future and in even a small way lifting the desperation and gloom that surrounds the housing market.

People who have a stake in the system are better citizens.  They care more about their neighborhoods, they care more about schools, they care more about law enforcement.  They care more about who represents them in government and what that representation reflects.

So the value of the work of Habitat for Humanity must be measured in much more than physical terms, more than in concrete and wood terms. It must be measured in terms of its impact on a community, a city, a state and a nation.  In that regard, it is a priceless reflection of the best of the American spirit.

Every effort should be made to facilitate the work of this organization so it can continue to make a difference in the lives of people, not just those who get homes but also those who volunteer to make it happen.