Habitat celebrates 30 years and $500 Million impact in Charlotte

By Mark Price, The Charlotte Observer |  Sep 20, 2013

The Charlotte Observer

On Friday, Charlotte's Habitat for Humanity expects to hit the $5 million mark for money invested in revitalizing West Charlotte's Reid Park community.

That milestone comes at the same time the agency will kick off its 30th anniversary celebration, which proposes to help 42 families with housing in 30 days.

Habitat's plan is to eventually invest $7 million in Reid Park, with projects including new parks, newly built homes and critically needed repairs to existing homes.

And therein lies one of many reasons Charlotte's Habitat is considered among the most influential nonprofit home builders in the nation.

In the past decade, it has either launched or helped create models that are now standard practice for Habitat affiliates around the country, among them the concept of revitalizing entire neighborhoods with homes built by charity.

Charlotte Habitat estimates its total economic impact in Charlotte over the past 30 years is $500 million. That includes not only the money it spends on contractors, construction materials, and buying property, but also $10.3 million in property taxes paid by the low income people who bought its homes.

The month-long 30th anniversary celebration is intended to be an unabashed self promotion of its success.

However, community leaders say it's no exaggeration to call Habitat an important player in the city's effort to supply more affordable housing for working families struggling to make ends meet.

In the past 30 years, Habitat has built or repaired 1,256 homes, where 5,000 people now live.

Meanwhile, the neighborhoods have benefitted from an increase in homeownership, which is having a bigger influence, said Charlotte City Council member David Howard.

Examples include Optimist Park, which has 60 Habitat homeowners, and Reid Park, where the agency has repaired or built about 50 Habitat homes.

In the latter case, Habitat also bought 24 empty lots that were part of a defunct development plan. It intends to fill them with new homes, though a few are being given to the community as park space.

"They are doing this in neighborhoods that haven't seen any development in years and to me that is the more important part of what they do," Howard said.

"They are turning neighborhoods around and when you do that, you're helping the whole city. They are taking on areas where you have a lot of substandard rentals and turning the tide by putting up single-family homes."

Charlotte City Council Member LaWana Mayfield added that Habitat is providing this additional housing at a time when federal and state money is tough to find.

Homelessness grows

The number of homeless families in Charlotte has grown between 21 percent and 36 percent annually since 2009, which experts attribute to companies cutting back on pay for already low-wage jobs.

"We have a growing homeless community and a lot of it has nothing to do with decisions they made," Mayfield said. "It's due to unfortunate events that keep them from walking into a bank and getting a home loan. Habitat is giving them that access."

The agency's planned 30th anniversary is an example of its skill at creating partnerships. Over 30 days, Habitat intends to bring together 70 community partners and 40 houses of faith for projects that will build or repair homes for 42 families.

It will kick off with a challenge, as 150 volunteers race to build an entire home in Reid Park in 30 hours.

The home is one of 65 the agency plans to eventually build or repair in Reid Park, where one third of the owner-occupied homes are Habitat houses, officials said.

Rickey Hall, president of the Reid Park Neighborhood Association, is among Habitat's fans, though he admits being wary at first. The West Boulevard corridor has a negative connotation, he said, but that doesn't mean the homeowners in Reid Park were going to settle for just anything.

"When Habitat first came in here, there was neighborhood concern about them taking over, what type of housing they would build, and if they were going to change the character of the neighborhood," Hall said.

"They have listened to our complaints and addressed them and we've moved on. It's a new day and the sad chapter is over. Habitat is providing homeownership opportunities and that's the driving force for stability in any neighborhood."

Larry Gluth, a senior vice president with Habitat International, says the neighborhood revitalization approach Charlotte helped develop is now a national Habitat program.

He also gives Charlotte's Habitat credit for launching other innovations, including the critical home repair initiative that keeps low-income homeowners from having their houses condemned.

Charlotte Habitat also gained notoriety during the recession for buying and repairing foreclosed homes at rock bottom prices, and buying empty lots from abandoned development projects.

"Historically, our affiliate in Charlotte has been able to identify the needs of the community and step up with ways to deal with it, innovative ways," Gluth said. "They're also blessed there with strong support from the business community and civic leaders."

It's as a result of those business and civic partners that Habitat's 30th anniversary celebration will include $1.5 million in sponsorships. Part of that money comes from a $250,000 community impact grant provided by Mooresville-based Lowe's. All that money will be spent in Reid Park.

Frank Spencer, president of Habitat Charlotte, said his agency is working on a plan that aims to serve 20 percent more families each year. It forecasts helping 120 families in the fiscal year ending next June.

He noted that the agency can do that because it has become self-sufficient and no longer needs to tap donor dollars for operations expenses. After all the bills are paid each year, the charity has $2 million left, which he said goes into building more homes.

The surplus is because of a business model that includes proceeds from its ReStores for selling donated furniture and building materials, as well as the no-interest mortgage payments made by Habitat homeowners.

He says Habitat's various programs are now having a $36 million a year economic impact on the community.

"Our business is creating hard assets with donors' money," Spencer said. "The homeowners who buy our homes pay back 100 percent of everything we put into it, so we're not giving away anything. The only thing we're giving away is a fair shake." ___

(c)2013 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)

Visit The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.) at www.charlotteobserver.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

This article originally appeared in the Charlotte Observer publication. Content was produced by outside parties not affiliated with Bank of America. Opinions or ideas expressed are not necessarily those of Bank of America, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, U.S. Trust or Bank of America Merrill Lynch, nor do they reflect their views or endorsement. These materials are for informational purposes only. Bank of America, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, U.S. Trust and Bank of America Merrill Lynch do not assume liability for any loss or damage resulting from anyone's reliance on the information provided.

Open Location
Open How we're involved