In the year that Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County expects to start construction of its 50th home, the nonprofit group is headed in some new directions.
“It’s nice to have a few Habitat houses mixed in,” said Marcus Toole, the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate’s resource development coordinator.
That brief sentence summarizes the reasoning behind an approach adopted in recent years by Habitat for Humanity in other communities and, now, here.
In years past, Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County concentrated its home construction in Statesboro. Founded in 1991, the Habitat affiliate, working with a partner family who became homeowners, completed its first new house in 1992. About 25 of the homes built since then were in the “Statesboro Pointe” area along Proctor Street, said Linda Christy, Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County’s executive director.
But where possible, the organization is getting away from creating developments that consist solely of Habitat homes, Christy said.
“When they move into an area that’s in need of revitalization, then we’re just one partner in the mix,” she said. “We don’t go in and try to fix the whole community.”
Already, with its current and next projects, Habitat has begun building some homes by themselves in the further, rural reaches of Bulloch County. Overlapping this, volunteers and a prospective homeowner will soon undertake the local affiliate’s first project to rehabilitate an older home rather than build a new one. Beyond these projects, the nonprofit is working with the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority on sprinkling some Habitat homes into revitalization plans for the South Main Street corridor.
Home No. 48, now going up in the Willow Hill community near Portal, signals some of those new directions, but is atypical in other ways. The house that Habitat is helping aspiring homeowner Benita Palmer build is larger than most, with five bedrooms, because Palmer has five children. Three-bedroom Habitat homes are typical.
It is also the first house that the local Habitat group has built that is not in or very near Statesboro. Two more homes are slated to be built inside the city limits of Portal, Toole said.
However, home 49 is already standing in the Clito community. An existing house that is to be made over, it will be the first such rehabilitation project for the Bulloch County Habitat group. Habitat leaders want to begin work there as soon as home 48 is completed, which they hope will be in April.
For home 50, the site has not been decided. But it could be in downtown Statesboro, said Christy and Toole.
Bob Mikell, the chairman of the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority board and also a member of Habitat for Humanity of Bulloch County’s board, talks about affordable housing as a necessary part of downtown revitalization plans. In December, Statesboro City Council created a Tax Allocation District centered on South Main Street under powers granted by voters in a November referendum.
TAD funds will be for public infrastructure projects. Because growth in property values provides the funding, much of the focus in drawing the district map was on areas with a high potential for gain, such as underused commercial properties. But the district also includes some neighborhoods, and Mikell observes that people who live nearby provide a natural customer base for new businesses.
Habitat’s requirements for prospective homeowners make them an asset in redeveloping areas that have been in decline, he asserts.
“Because of this model, Habitat houses typically raise neighboring property values and lower crime because of what the partner families bring to a neighborhood,” Mikell said.
A Christian ministry established in Americus, Georgia, in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International has helped build or repair more than 800,000 houses worldwide. Habitat does not give away homes. It sells them, on 25-year interest-free mortgages.
‘Into the middle class’
Nor are the people who buy the homes the poorest of the poor. To qualify, they must earn 30 percent to 60 percent of the area median income for their family size, Christy said. Habitat checks work and credit histories to determine that the buyers can repay.
These “partner families” must pay the taxes on their homes and invest “sweat equity” by working on their homes and as Habitat volunteers. In Bulloch County, Habitat requires a total of 250 hours work by every person, age 18 and up, in the household, Christy said.
Before construction begins on their own homes, those adult family members must work 90 of those hours in other settings, such as on other people’s Habitat homes, in Spike’s ReStore or at the Habitat office. But the 20 hours of financial management classes they are required to take, from a program called Financial Peace University, also count toward the total.
“We’re not providing a handout, we’re providing a hand up into the middle class,” Christy said.
Volunteer labor and some donated and discounted materials help reduce the cost of the houses. Payments on the two most recent three-bedroom houses run about $400 a month, including taxes and insurance, Christy said.
The pride of homeownership and the commitment the buyers make motivates them to protect their homes, giving them an interest in the upkeep and policing of the surrounding neighborhood, Toole said.
Habitat thrift stores, which help fund the local affiliates, are called ReStores. The local one, on East Cherry Street, is named for its founder, longtime Bulloch Habitat volunteer Dr. Warren “Spike” Jones.
The local Habitat’s full-time, paid staff consists of Christy, Toole and ReStore manager Arliesha Lovett. Bill Kroutwald, the construction manager, serves part-time.
Weather permitting, volunteers work on homes, such as the one now under construction at Willow Hill, each Thursday and Saturday. Toole says 10 to 12 is an ideal number of volunteers on a project and up to 20 is manageable, but Habitat sometimes accommodates more from organizations who want to help, especially groups that include skilled builders.
In another new development, Habitat is entering a partnership with Georgia Southern University’s construction management program. Students from the program will both do skilled work on the homes and help manage the projects, Toole said.
“That will give real-life experience to the students and also greatly expand our ability and speed at building houses,” he said.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.