For discussion

October 2017

Through scientific eyes: Building homes and hope with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity

Josh Hoper has served on the Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity board of directors for about 6 of the nearly 18 years he’s lived in Fargo. He’s a scientist at heart, having earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Natural Sciences and a minor in Psychology from the University of North Dakota. His career has spanned a variety of sectors, with the most recent 17 years in the software and consulting businesses. His current business is a consulting practice whose purpose is to empower entrepreneurs to make fearless decisions through financial analysis, budget creation and review, virtual CFO services, and business coaching. He is a Director Consultant for BNI (Business Network International) of Minnesota, providing support and education for the BNI chapters in the Red River Valley. He is a facilitator for Co.Starters, an education program for entrepreneurs who want to turn their concept into a business. He’s also on the organizing team of GROUP THINK, a community conversation platform, where community members gather to hear interesting speakers talk about various topics to spur enlightened discussion in the community. Josh joined the board of directors of Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity in 2012 and has served as board secretary in 2013, vice president in 2014 and 2015, and president since January of 2016. In this article, Josh gives a brief overview of the Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity organization and how he tries to find ways to promote the importance of data to others in the organization.


Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity (LAHFH), located in the Fargo-Moorhead community, serves a number of local communities and is an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, a global, nonprofit housing organization operated on Christian principles that seeks to put God’s love into action by building homes, communities, and hope. LAHFH is dedicated to eliminating substandard housing locally and worldwide by constructing, rehabilitating, and preserving homes; by advocating for fair and just housing policies; and by providing training and access to resources to help families improve their shelter conditions. Habitat for Humanity was founded on the conviction that every man, woman, and child should have a simple, durable place to live with dignity and safety, and that decent shelter in decent communities should be a matter of conscience and action for all. We at the LAHFH partner with local businesses, churches, and volunteers to help build homes with qualifying families. Volunteers provide most of the labor, and individual and corporate donors provide money and materials to build Habitat houses. Most importantly, homeowner, “partner” families play a large role in the building of their home. The partner families invest 250 hours of labor - "sweat equity" - into building their homes and the homes of others. They also make interest-free mortgage payments which go into a fund that is used to build more houses.
With the generous support of donors and volunteers, LAHFH has made a lasting and meaningful impact in our community by helping local families realize their dreams of home-ownership and furthering Habitat’s goal of simple, decent, and affordable housing.

About Habitat for Humanity International
Founded in Americus, Georgia, USA, in 1976, Habitat for Humanity today operates around the globe and has helped build, renovate, and repair more than 600,000 decent, affordable houses sheltering more than 3 million people worldwide. 

Social good from an analytical mind
You might be in a similar position as I am in, so I wanted to share some thoughts related to social good and the use of data. Having the mind of an analytical person, I am drawn to create an understanding of projects I work on with empirical data. Data makes the world make sense to me.
I wanted to find ways to elevate the importance of data to others in our organization in a way that resonates with people who may not share my unquenchable thirst for data. I felt this was especially important as it relates to the strategic and tactical leadership of the organization. I was able to stress the importance of data in two areas: the scope of the problem we at LAHFH are trying to solve, and what would our community look like if we accomplished our mission.

The scope of our mission
As a member of the Fargo-Moorhead community, I marvel at the effort and cooperation it takes to design, coordinate and build every single house for every single partner family selected by LAHFH. I am amazed by the dedication and generosity of the LAHFH staff, volunteers, and donors and the scale and precision to which they need to collaborate to accomplish a feat as big as building a well-built house that provides a comfortable, energy efficient, and safe place for families to call their own home.
As a board member of the organization, I am grateful that the organization has partnered with the community to build homes for the past 26 years. For a single organization to coordinate the completion of over 55 home builds in six communities throughout Cass, ND and Clay, MN counties with volunteer labor and donated funds is an amazing feat.
As the board president for the past year and a half, I have often wondered to myself a few questions. How many houses would we need to build to accomplish our mission? Fifty-five homes built out of how many needed homes? If we were successful in accomplishing our ultimate mission, what would that look like?
Being in the president's chair has forced me to think of the long term objectives of our organization in less of an abstract way and more of a practical way. Do we know what the ultimate objective of our organization is? Are we making acceptable, measurable progress towards that goal? If I don't pursue the answers to these questions, who will?

"Work ourselves out of a job"
As an organization with objectives related to doing social good, we are compelled to ask ourselves what success looks like, not only in the short term, like each year, but in the long term. What social problem are we trying to solve, and what would success look like if we got to the point of actually solving that problem? If we got to that point, what would we do as an organization? Would our mission change?
As a realist, I don't think the ultimate goal will be accomplished in my tenure on the board. I don't imagine the ultimate problem will be solved in my lifetime, or in the lifetime of the next generation, or the next. Or maybe even the next one after that. But I do find it important to at least recognize the ending point of our mission being accomplished and, at least theoretically, understand what it might look like if we were to solve the big problem we've been hacking away at for the past 26 years.

Numbers that matter
Housing studies show that home ownership rates are lower in our service area than the national average. Strikingly, Fargo's home ownership rate (44%) is significantly lower than the national average (63%). Of the 15 largest cities in North Dakota, Fargo's home ownership rate is the lowest (North Dakota Compass).
Households that spend more than 30% of their household income are categorized as "cost-burdened." If they spend over 50%, they are considered "severely cost-burdened." Renters are more likely to be cost-burdened than homeowners.
Data from 2015 show that there are 15,900 renter households that are cost-burdened in the Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan Statistical Area out of roughly 35,000 households that rent - a rate of about 45%. The same data show 9,100 households that are homeowners are cost-burdened out of roughly 26,000 owner-occupied households - a rate of 35%. Factoring in income levels, we find 8,100 households who are renting, are cost-burdened and have household incomes between $15,000 and $30,000 (Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies).
In a normal year, LAHFH receives between 60 and 100 applications or about 1% of the 8,100 households that likely fit the initial profile of a qualified partner family. The numbers illustrate why we're driven to help as many families as we can, and that we have our work cut out for us as a community if we're ever going to accomplish our mission.
To learn more about Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity, visit:



More discussion

Working Together to Nourish North Dakotans
June 2022

FARRMS: Growing a More Sustainable Future for North Dakota
March 2022

Awesome: When a Foundation isn’t a Foundation
February 2022

Shining Light on Diabetes
November 2021

Marie Hvidsten: Rural Leadership North Dakota (RLND) Program
June 2021

Katherine Roth: Resources to Support North Dakota’s Small Businesses, Non-profits, and Municipalities
January 2021

Brittany Sickler: What is America’s Seed Fund? Opportunity for North Dakota Innovators
December 2020

Madison Marion: Making Contact: The Experience of a Student Case Worker of COVID-19 in North Dakota
November 2020

Abby Tow & Micayla Bitz: Everyone Needs Help Sometimes.
June 2020

Louise Dardis: North Dakota needs you to complete Census 2020 to receive equitable funding when every resident is counted.
December 2019

Scott Meyer: Why Entrepreneurship Should Be Taught in North Dakota
September 2019

Luke Schaefer and Alissa Thiele: Coming Together to Help Students
April 2019

Jen Walla: Prairie Roots Community Fund
February 2019

Lindsey Leker: Creating Community with the use of Technology and Youth Leadership
January 2019

Megan Laudenschlager: Strengthen ND - Supporting and Accelerating Community Development in Rural North Dakota
December 2018

Jodi Bruns: NDSU Extension Takes Creative Approach to Enhancing Communities and Improving Leaders
September 2018

Kevin Iverson: The 2020 Census
August 2018

Josh Askvig: Building Communities for All
June 2018

Jessica Nelson: CHARISM -- Building a Stronger, Better Neighborhood Since 1994
April 2018

Katherine Roth: The Jamestown Regional Entrepreneur Center – A Newcomer to the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of South Central North Dakota
March 2018

5 Years of North Dakota Compass!
February 2018

Alexandre Cyusa: Folkways -- Building a vibrant community one memorable experience at a time
December 2017

AIPHRC: Engaging and Partnering with Tribes: American Indian Public Health Resource Center Improving Public Health
November 2017

Josh Hoper: Through scientific eyes: Building homes and hope with Lake Agassiz Habitat for Humanity
October 2017

Diane Solinger: Jeremiah Program ignites hopeful journey for single mothers, creates better future for the next generation
September 2017

Kelly Sassi & Denise Lajimodiere: Turtle Mountain Teen Art and Writing Workshop: Enacting Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Pedagogy in a Summer Program for Native American Youth
August 2017

Kristi Huber: Do you know the Return on Investment on your charitable giving?
May 2017

Jesseca White: Disrupting the Revolving Door: A look at alternative justice in Fargo
January 2017

Leola Daul: Heart-n-Soul Community Cafe: A Place Where All Are Welcome to Enjoy a Local, Healthy, and Delicious Meal no Matter their Ability to Pay
October 2016

Cass Clay Food Systems Advisory Commission: A Multijurisdictional Food Policy Council
August 2016

5 Ways to Join the Compass Community
May 2016

Inform, Improve, Inspire: North Dakota's First Ever Demographics Conference
March 2016

Donene Feist: Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs in North Dakota
January 2016

ND Head Start: Vibrant Economy Leads to Workforce Shortages - Head Start Programs Statewide Are Feeling the Impact
December 2015

Lynette Schaff: Bullying- Just a Schoolyard Problem? Think Again!
November 2015

Jim Deal: Changes to Come
October 2015

Janis Cheney: AARP- Discover Your Possibilities
September 2015

John Trombley: Competition is Tough; Why Make it Tougher?
August 2015

Nick Ybarra: Keeping the Trail
July 2015

Megan Laudenschlager: Engaging Millennials
June 2015

Kim Bushaw: Brain Development
May 2015

2015 Legislative District Profiles
April 2015

ND Compass Points
March 2015

Heidi Demars: Growing a Food Cooperative from the Ground Up
February 2015

Helen Danielson: National Mentoring Month
January 2015

Sharz Miar: Giving the Gift of Hope for the Holidays
December 2014

Cheryl Ann Kary (Hunkuotawin): Talking Indian: A L/N/Dakota Model of Oratory
November 2014

North Dakota Legislative District Profiles
October 2014

Edwin Erickson Jr.: Soybeans- Growing an Important Commodity for North Dakota
September 2014

Jennifer Braun: A Look at Early Childhood Education in Western North Dakota
August 2014

Jordyn Wallenborn: Ticks Bite: Protect Yourself Against Lyme Disease
July 2014

Lorraine Shepherd-Davis: Filling a Need in the Community
June 2014

Howard Barlow: Helping Build a Better Community
May 2014

Denise Hellekson: Using Mindfulness to Calm Your Busy Mind
April 2014

Melissa Sobolik: End hunger through community partnerships
March 2014

Jacob Sowers: Places and their story: More than just a spot on the map?
February 2014

Neil Scharpe: "Protecting North Dakota's Quality of Life"
January 2014

Donald Warne: "American Indian Health Disparities in North Dakota"
November 2013

Kay Schwarzwalter: "Community building through community gardens"
October 2013

Jasper Schneider: "Rural Development in North Dakota"
August 2013

Dean Bangsund: "Economic contribution of the petroleum industry in North Dakota"
July 2013

Jane Strommen: "Addressing the education and support needs of older North Dakotans and their family members"
June 2013

Randi Roth: "In Support of North Dakota Communities"
March 2013

Richard Rathge: "Vision of North Dakota Compass"
February 2013

Paul Mattessich: "What's the real poverty rate?"
January 2013

North Dakota Compass

Center for Social Research
North Dakota State University

Compass created by:
Wilder Research

© 2022. All rights reserved.