Habitat seeks expansion into Bertie

Published 10:36 am Monday, March 21, 2016

WINDSOR – It’s about more than being a good homeowner, or even home builder – it’s about being a good neighbor.

Habitat for Humanity, or just Habitat, celebrates its 40th birthday this year, and in the Tar Heel state, Habitat for Humanity of North Carolina (HHNC) has begun an ambitious project designed to help first-time home owners.

Habitat is a non-governmental, nonprofit organization devoted to building simple, decent, and affordable housing as a way to address poverty housing around the United States.

To own one’s own home, people who qualify for Habitat assistance must put in a significant amount of their own labor in the building of the home as well as take classes in finance management.

In 2015, The SECU Foundation and HHNC agreed to begin a joint initiative to expand affordable housing across the state called SECU Habitat “Mountains to the Sea Challenge”. The SECU Foundation is the charitable and developmental arm of the $29 billion State Employees’ Credit Union headquartered in Raleigh and with branch offices across the state.

The SECU has offered interest-free construction financing to Phase 1 affiliates. Affiliates in Phase 1 counties without sufficient funds to start can apply for that financing.

The Challenge will provide an investment of $10 million over a three year period for HHNC to build one new (or thoroughly renovated) home in each of the state’s 100 counties. It was launched hoping to spark the partnerships and affiliations that will expand Habitat across the state; and Challenge officials say they now expect there to be 104 projects completed.

Local Habitat offices are called affiliates and currently there are affiliates in Chowan, Perquimans, Martin, Pitt, Washington, Pasquotank, Hertford, and Halifax counties.

But not in Bertie County, and that’s where HHNC Executive Director Greg Kirkpatrick would like to expand a new affiliate, and that was part of his message to Bertie County Commissioners at their monthly meeting on March 7.

In areas where there is no local affiliate, the state organization takes on the responsibility. Bertie is not alone; Camden, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, and Greene counties also operate under the umbrella of the state organization.

“The good news is that CADA (Choanoke Area Development Association) is going to help us with this campaign,” Kirkpatrick told the Commissioners.

Kirkpatrick says the Tier 1 counties have to begin their projects before the second phase counties can get started.

“By started I mean we need to find, identify, and qualify a family and find a location,” he said.

Commission chairman John Trent and fellow Commissioner Tammy Lee have been very responsive to the project and have agreed to help Kirkpatrick maintained. He thinks Bertie County’s project will probably be a renovation.

“A place that’s in reasonably good shape, but could use some money being poured into it.” Kirkpatrick noted.

He says under the Challenge rules, when the project is completed then SECU purchases the mortgage at the full face value.

“And that is very unusual because if you know anything about the present value of money, when Habitat closes a zero-percent mortgage with a homeowner, that mortgage, in terms of its commercial value, would be worth about half what you just closed it for,” Kirkpatrick said. “And yet the SECU and the SECU Foundation is going to make a contribution so that if the house appraises at $90,000, they will close the mortgage and give us $90,000.”

He says if a county group were to raise some money rather than pay the money back to SECU at zero-percent interest, then a second house could be built.

“Maybe that way we could have a presence in Bertie as well as Camden and the Outer Banks,” he admitted. “If it works and we can make the partnership work then it could become a long-term partnership.”

Kirkpatrick says CADA will qualify the family chosen for the renovation, and ads will be taken out in the local newspaper announcing the program. Any additional questions can be directed to CADA in Rich Square, or HHNC at 323 W. Jones St., Suite 501, Raleigh, NC and at 919-390-1660 on how to apply.

“There is a mortgage payment,” he cautioned, “but it’s oftentimes less than a family pays for rent; but they’ve got to have the credit and prove they can make the payments.”

Kirkpatrick said once they find out where the family wants to live, then HHNC will look for a property in that town, whether it’s Colerain, Merry Hill, Lewiston-Woodville, or wherever.

Commissioner Ronald “Ron” Wesson mentioned CADA’s IDA (individual development account) program for first-time home-buyers who’ve already been through the qualification process.

“That would be a great place to start for people who are already interested and already qualified,” Wesson said.

“That may make (the process) happen very quickly,” Kirkpatrick said. “If they (CADA) are qualifying families and all we’re doing is trying to find the money and the homes to put families in then maybe we could turn these pretty quickly and get good families into nice homes.”

That would make it building more than just a house, it would be building a neighborhood.