Forsyth Habitat building on partnerships

Sylvia Oberle
Sylvia Oberle

Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Two years ago, Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County received $2 million in federal stimulus funding through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and moved into the business of buying and rehabilitating abandoned and foreclosed homes.

With those funds, Habitat bought and is rehabbing 10 foreclosed homes, and also has built eight new homes on foreclosed lots it purchased with funds the city of Winston-Salem and the county received through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

Now, Habitat Forsyth is participating in a new Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative launched by Habitat for Humanity International that lets its affiliates “serve more families and respond to community needs by expanding the types of products, services and partnerships it offers,” says Sylvia Oberle, executive director.

“It’s not just Habitat working alone anymore,” Oberle says, “but it is Habitat working in partnership with many organizations to transform communities.”

Previously, Habitat typically worked by identifying and buying land on which it could build houses, selecting families for which it would build houses, and raising money to cover construction costs.

Now, affiliates participating in Habitat’s new initiative, including 14 throughout North Carolina, identify neighborhoods in which they want to work, determine the kind of development that is needed to improve the quality of life in those neighborhoods, find partners, and select the housing products best suited for the desired development.

Different approaches to development will attract different types of public and private donors, Oberle says, creating new funding streams because the “product has changed,” while also helping Habitat mobilize volunteers differently.

“You can serve more families,” Oberle says. “You can hopefully attract more donors and new funding opportunities, as well as new volunteers, to the organization, all of which is a much more strategic and comprehensive was of addressing a community housing need and not just building more houses.”

Before Habitat International launched the Neighborhood Revitalizational Initiative, for example, Habitat Forsyth has been working on revitalizing the Cherry Street neighborhood, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

It has built 16 houses there, while private developer Community Infill Builders is renovating two of six single-family homes it will develop, and private developer Dewey Anderson has renovated four apartment buildings into 13 market-rate rental units.

Now, targeting a slightly expanded area in the Cherry Street neighborhood, Habitat is studying the area using assessment tools and surveys provided by Habitat International, and will develop a three-year plan to continue to work there.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has posted a Habitat toolkit on its website that encourages closer collaboration between preservationists and Habitat affiliates, along with case studies of key projects involving Habitat affiliates and preservation groups, including the Cherry Street project.

And the National Trust and Habitat International aim to work more closely together.

The new strategy, Oberle says, “focuses community development where it needs to be and puts Habitat in a role as a strong partner with other agencies.”

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