Habitat executive retiring

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Kay Lord, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County since July 1997, will retire at the end of the year.

Habitat has retained Kenan Soper Bryan Ltd. in Winston-Salem to conduct a search for a new executive director.

Under Lord, formerly assistant vice president and director of alumni activities for eight years at Wake Forest University, Habitat has increased its annual production of houses, opened a retail store and worked to be a catalyst to spur the revival of rundown inner-city neighborhoods.

The affiliate also was the first in the United States to equip its homes with computers and internet access, and to provide technology training to its homeowners.

Habitat this year is building 20 houses and will bring its total to 197, up from a total of 70 it had built when Lord joined the organization.

The affiliate has been increasing its annual total by two a year, and aims by 2009 to raise annual production to 30 houses.

Unlike many affiliates, which build homes on undeveloped land, Habitat Forsyth decided in 2001 to build new homes on sites previously occupied by dilapidated housing.

“We were concerned that families were coming to us out of substandard housing, but other families were moving back into that substandard housing,” Lord says.

Typically invited by the city or neighborhood groups to get involved in blighted neighborhoods, Habitat works with residents to determine local housing needs, she says.

It then works with the city to buy properties and demolish substandard sites, improve local infrastructure, secure funding and involve local churches, donors and volunteers.

To blend in with existing housing stock, Habitat has changed the design of its housing to a bungalow style that includes bricks, front steps and big front porches, Lord says.

Habitat Forsyth also was the first Habitat affiliate in the state to team up with Advanced Energy, a nonprofit in Raleigh that, under its “System Vision” program, guarantees heating and cooling bills for homes built to its standards will not exceed a set amount for two years.

For Habitat Forsyth, Advanced Energy promises to pay homeowners the difference if monthly bills on average for a year exceed $31.

Habitat Forsyth also pioneered the “Digital Bridge” program to help its homeowners use technology to plug into the New Economy, an initiative that Habitat for Humanity International now aims to expand to other regions.

The Habitat ReStore, which opened in 1999 and sells donated furniture, building supplies and home-improvement merchandise, will generate $600,000 in revenue this year, enough to cover its operating expenses and finance construction of five new Habitat homes, Lord says.

Under her leadership, the annual budget for Habitat has tripled to $3 million, while its staff has nearly tripled from seven people to the equivalent of 20 full-time employees.

Another big focus has been to provide financial-literacy training to Habitat homeowners through an “individual development account” program offered by Consumer Credit Counseling.

Homeowners who receive that training, which focuses on topics such as credit, budgeting and mortgages, also can take part in a program sponsored by United Way of Forsyth County that matches dollars saved by homeowners.

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