Mulling growth

Greensboro Habitat aims to triple production of new houses, repairs.

By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — After building 34 houses in 2004, its most productive year ever, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro is looking for a way to increase its output and better address local demand, aiming over three years to build 150 houses and repair another 200.

Meeting that goal, based on a preliminary feasibility study conducted last year by the Atlanta office of New York City-based Community Counselling Service, could cost $10 million to $20 million, says Winston McGregor, director of development.

Habitat would raise or secure pledges for half those dollars through a capital campaign over two to three years, she says, and would secure the remaining funds from a combination of sources, including government grants and income from mortgages and its ReStore that sells donated building materials and household items.

Founded in 1987, Habitat has built 265 houses, including 172 in the last eight years, a spurt roughly double the output of its first decade and that it now wants to nearly double in three years.

In 2004, when it was named affiliate of the year for Habitat affiliates serving populations of 50,000 to 250,000, Habitat launched a new effort to repair houses for low-income homeowners, many of them elderly or with disabilities, who lack the means to handle their own repairs.

Using its model of building houses with interest-free financing and volunteer labor, Habitat repaired six houses last year.

Families wanting repairs are screened by the Greensboro Housing Coalition, an advocacy and education agency that works to eliminate substandard housing, while Habitat assesses and estimates the cost of needed repairs, handled by volunteers and two staff members.

Habitat makes grants for repairs that cost $2,500 or less, and provides interest-free financing for the portion of the costs of repairs exceeding $2,500.

And Habitat, which has built only single-family detached homes, this year will begin its first townhome project.

Construction on the first phase of the project, which eventually will include five buildings with four two-bedroom units each, will begin this fall in Eastside Park, where Habitat has built 30 houses and, in partnership with residents and other groups, a community center.

Increasing production to 50 houses a year will require creative use of land, McGregor says, including townhomes or cluster homes built close together and sharing roads or yard space.

Recent production growth of 20 percent a year, and the need for more affordable housing, triggered discussion about doubling production that focused on the money, land and the length of time the expansion would require, McGregor says.

The feasibility study last summer and early fall found confidence in an ambitious goal, and indicated people were likely to contribute to, be involved with or lead the effort, McGregor says.

But the study lacked data to set a fundraising goal, so Habitat is asking individuals contacted last year if they will serve as campaign leaders and make leadership gifts.

“Fundraising is a vital part of our ministry,” says McGregor. “It’s the place where we invite people to do something very personal, which is to make a gift.”

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