Greensboro Habitat gets stimulus funds

Winston McGregor
Winston McGregor

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In Guilford County, 32,000 families earn less than $35,000 a year. And in Greensboro alone, up to 4,000 families are on a waiting list for public-housing assistance.

To meet that demand for housing, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Greensboro in recent years has been building 15 to 20 homes a year and typically works with 100 families approved or applying to become Habitat homeowners.

Now, thanks to a $2.1 million grant from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program, Habitat Greensboro plans to increase its production over the next two to three years by buying and renovating 25 to 35 homes in foreclosure.

Funded through the $700 billion federal stimulus package approved by Congress last fall, the housing initiative has awarded a total of nearly $48.9 million to 20 local governments, nonprofits and other organizations in North Carolina.

Formed in 1987, Habitat Greensboro has built over 320 homes.

Production peaked in 2004, when the affiliate built 34 homes on the crest of a wave in which Habitat for Humanity International, working in partnership with national investors, made low-interest loans to local affiliates to increase their building capacity.

But after leveraging its pool of mortgages, which it used as collateral to tap into the national funding, Habitat Greensboro in recent years has been looking for new strategies to develop new housing, says Winston McGregor, the agency’s president and executive director.

In 2006, Habitat completed development of Stonegate Crossing, a subdivision in east Greensboro that includes 30 homes a private builder constructed and 70 homes Habitat built.

And in 2008, Habitat broke ground on Arbor Court, a $1.5 million development in the Eastside Park neighborhood that will include 20 townhomes and represents the affiliate’s first multi-family project.

Homeowners are living in the first six townhomes in the development, and Habitat will break ground on the next six units in June.

Now, in addition to continuing to build townhomes and “infill” housing in existing neighborhoods, Habitat will use the funds from the federal stimulus package to increase its production by buying and renovating foreclosed housing.

Partnering on the new project is Housing Greensboro, a former arm of Habitat that the affiliate spun off as a separate nonprofit to repair housing for low-income homeowners and renovate housing for resale.

Depending on whether it can buy the properties, Habitat plans to focus the new project in an area, within a radius of roughly two miles, that is east of Summit Avenue, north of East Wendover Avenue, south of Buffalo Creek and west of Penry Road.

Homeowners of the renovated housing will contribute 300 hours of “sweat equity,” consisting on classroom training on topics such as home maintenance, legal issues involving home ownership, and budgeting and financial management, and will work to build their own and other Habitat houses.

Habitat will sell the houses to homeowners at no profit with interest-free mortgages, and will use the mortgage payments to help finance the construction of additional houses.

A working-class neighborhood with economic and ethnic diversity, McGregor says, the area is near Revolution Mills, a complex of former textile mills that Cone Mills developed in the late 1800s.

Habitat has built 40 houses in the area, where the city also is building a new facility for the McGirt-Horton branch of the Greensboro Public Library that will be one of the first LEEDS-certified “green” libraries in North Carolina.

“We really have a vested interest in seeing this neighborhood stabilized,” McGregor says. “Good things are happening out there.”

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