Believing that everyone deserves a safe, decent and affordable home, Habitat for Humanity of the NC Sandhills is ramping up its production and repair programs.
In a typical year, the organization might build eight homes. This year it is working on 12 homes, in addition to finishing 100 critical repairs for at-need residents.
With average rentals and home prices soaring as a result of the housing crunch in southern Moore County, the need for affordable housing, particularly for service industry workers in healthcare and hospitality businesses, has become an urgent concern.
“Home ownership can change the trajectory of a family in their ability to build wealth and self-reliance. It is the key in what we are doing here,” said Amie Fraley, Habitat’s executive director. “And for our volunteers, it is way beyond the lumber and putting up walls. It is about building community and pride in ownership. We are all out there doing this together.”
The increase in construction is due, in part, to Sandhills Habitat merging with Hoke Habitat in January 2020. Work is also ongoing in Richmond County, where the Sandhills office oversees an extensive repair work effort. These projects often entail building handicap ramps or replacing roofs for low-income homeowners to ensure they have a safe and affordable place to live.
“We’re also increasing production because we’ve restructured in a way that allows our building projects to move faster,” Fraley said. “We have isolated the volunteer work that we find our volunteers want to do — and giving them more of that — while finding smarter ways to get the rest of the construction work done.”
In essence, more volunteers happily working on build projects means more gets built. More projects also means more opportunities for fundraising and bringing in new sponsors.
The Habitat Gala, the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, was held in April at Pinehurst Country Club. The event included both in-person and to-go dining options, as well as online auctions. Traditionally the event raises around $100,000, funding construction for one home. This year’s gala netted more than $200,000, primarily through the Build-A-House auction, where people simply make donations to the cause.
On N.C. 5 in Aberdeen, the Habitat ReStore also provides revenue for the organization. With folks stuck at home in the early days of the pandemic, many used the time to reorganize and redecorate their homes.
“We definitely saw an increase in donations of goods. I kept thinking it would slow down or stop, but it has not,” Fraley said, noting sales were up 30 percent. “It’s been great. It creates a cycle because the more stuff coming in means we sell more at cheaper prices. We are always looking for the best way to use resources to keep people excited and engaged and keep our mission moving forward.”
“It really got the word out about Habitat,” agreed Stacy Lebak, Habitat’s marketing and communications manager. “People were cleaning out their homes and then coming here. It raised the profile of our ReStore.”
AmeriCorps also took notice, awarding the local Habitat office four grant-funded positions. These include two full-time and two part-time construction leads to work on project sites. Successful applicants will commit to 10.5 months overseeing volunteers on builds. The funding provides a living allowance plus an educational stipend the construction leads can use to further their education.
Fraley described the positions as a good opportunity for hands-on learning in the trades. All ages are welcome to apply but she envisions the role will be particularly attractive for a young adult looking to take a gap year between college and career. Prior construction knowledge is not required for this leadership development role.
“We are looking for someone who is passionate about our mission. The Habitat name carries a lot of weight as you go out into the world. This can really open doors to a lot of potential things,” Fraley said.
Veterans Build Project Coming Along
It’s “walls up” for Jessica Anderson’s new home this coming Saturday. The Navy veteran, Pinecrest grad and mother of two is the recipient of the 2022 Sandhills Veterans Build home through Habitat for Humanity of the NC Sandhills.
“At Habitat we see such a strong military impact. It is not just people living and working in our community, but we have so many military connected volunteers also giving back to our community,” said Fraley. “They make an extraordinary effort every day doing their jobs every day, that is so appreciated. It’s incredible they’ll go above and beyond and spend their free days off to come out and volunteer.”
According to a report by the National Housing Conference, nearly half of veterans who are single mothers will spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. This puts them at higher risk for housing challenges.
“Jessica is the epitome of what we seek out. We look for (future homeowners) who are at a point in life where they are really passionate about building something great for their families, and we get the honor of joining them in that endeavor,” Fraley said. “At Habitat, we can provide a home — that tangible thing that makes them feel like they are transitioning from a time of challenge to a time of strength.”
The project’s lead sponsor, Pinehurst-based Veterans Guardian, issued a challenge earlier this year to match every donation two-to-one, up to $35,000. Fraley said they have surpassed that initial fundraising goal and have continued to raise money for future Veterans Build projects. Additional sponsors include the local chapter of Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), VFW Post 7318, Vietnam Veterans of America, Veteran Motorcycles Club, Knights of Columbus, Jersey Mike’s, J. McLaughlin, VFW Auxiliary, and Moore County Veterans Service.
Volunteer work days at the 2022 Sandhills Veterans Build worksite are scheduled each Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Learn more about volunteering and Habitat for Humanity’s work in the community at https://sandhillshabitat.org/2022-veterans-build/ or call (910) 295-1934.
Since 1988, the Sandhills affiliate has built more than 250 new homes and provided critical repairs on over 100 additional homes.
In late October, an information session at Cardinal Park attracted 70 potential applicants. From this group, Fraley anticipated they would select 12 future homeowners for 2022-23 projects. The ideal applicant, generally speaking, earns between 30 to 60 percent of the county’s median income based on their family’s size. They also must have a reasonable debt load.
“There are more people applying than what we can build for. There is a need there,” she said. “For people with excessive debt, we can provide financial counseling and assistance to help them improve their credit situation so they can apply in the future.”
Applicants must also have a willingness to partner with Habitat by investing 300 hours of “sweat equity,” 22 hours of educational courses designed to help them succeed as a homeowner, and with an understanding they will purchase the home with a guaranteed affordable mortgage.