Where Habitat Fits in the Movement for Racial Equity

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By Andy Barnett, Executive Director

Earlier this week, we observed the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. The holiday provides an opportunity to reflect on the legacy of Dr. King and to recommit to a vision of equity for our neighbors who face barriers due to intentionally discriminatory policies and structures of power. Dr. King saw a great deal of progress toward racial equity in his lifetime and we have seen more in the years since his death. But much remains to be done to realize the dream of a nation where everyone has the chance to live up to their potential regardless of where they start from and the obstacles in their path. Continuing this work is our challenge today.

Homeownership Disparity; Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates

One of the places where we haven’t seen progress toward racial equity, where, in fact we see a widening gap between whites and people of color is in household wealth. In 1963, the disparity in median family wealth was about $40,000; white households now have a median net worth $123,000 higher than African American families according to a report by the Urban Institute. This means that white families are much more able to weather financial hardships, take advantage of education and career opportunities, and participate in a virtuous cycle where the wealth attainment of one generation becomes the platform for the next. Families of color are much less likely to see these benefits.

A number of factors contribute to the widening gap in wealth including income, employment, family wealth, and education attainment. But, the largest single factor is homeownership—accounting for more than 25% of the disparity according to a Brandeis study.  White households are more likely to own homes. In Buncombe County, 72% of white households own their home while fewer than half of households of color are homeowners. This level of disparity in homeownership is consistent with national homeownership gap. Not only are households of color less likely to own homes, they also build equity more slowly (and lose it more quickly) than white households.

Home Ownership Loan Corporation “redlining” map of Asheville

This disparity is the result of intentional real estate and mortgage lending practices.  Beginning in the 1930’s, federal underwriting policy established lending risk based on geography.  Communities of color were identified as having a greater risk of default. As a result, these “redlined” areas were largely excluded from the post-war housing boom in housing development finance. Across the country new developments legally excluded Black and Latino buyers through restrictive covenants, and at the same time, neighborhoods of color declined due to lack of capital investment.

This pattern of lending created, in effect, two housing markets. One that rapidly appreciated in value and was restricted to whites, and another for people of color where values and conditions stagnated or declined. Overtime the deteriorating conditions in these disinvested neighborhoods “proved” that race-based lending practices were justified and these neighbors were blamed for the poor conditions rather than recognized as victims of discriminatory practices. Even after housing discrimination based on race was outlawed, “blight” and a “blame the victim” culture made it easy to justify redevelopment and displacement. Unfortunately, two generations of households have missed out on wealth building through a period of historic home value appreciation.

This is where Habitat’s work enters the story. We are a builder and a bank. Our programs simultaneously address geographic disinvestment and create a path to successful homeownership. Habitat develops housing in neighborhoods that other developers might reject, but where opportunities exist for a good quality of life for homeowners. Depending on the market, Habitat’s investment can boost a stagnating market or build long term economic integration in a “hot” market. By financing and assisting repairs for existing homeowners, Habitat preserves the housing stock and adds value to existing neighborhoods. Habitat lends to first time buyers and finances repairs for existing owners that other lenders have determined are too “risky”. Through careful underwriting, extensive education, a focus on partnership with the borrower, and a commitment to affordable mortgage terms, Habitat successfully extends homeownerships to households with incomes well below what it would take to qualify for a conventional mortgage. Since 2010, 45% of those new homeowners were households of color.

Habitat creates a way for households facing economic barriers to achieve homeownership and begin to close the wealth gap, but we can’t do it alone. To achieve equity in rates of homeownership nearly 3,000 additional households of color in Buncombe County will need the opportunity to become homeowners. To achieve this scale, we will need many more lenders to adopt policies that help households of color overcome historical barriers to mortgage loans. We need to grow housing and financial counseling opportunities to help aspiring homebuyers become “mortgage ready”. We need more affordable rental options and tenant advocacy so that renters have the stability needed to save and prepare for future ownership. Finally, we need home repair and foreclosure prevention assistance to help existing homeowners to remain at home. In short, it will take everyone committing to give our time, our financial support, and our voices to advance the dream of equality of opportunity for all our neighbors regardless of race.

P.S. – On MLK Day, a group of Habitat staff members and volunteers watched this 30 minute film together to gain a better understanding of the complex roots of today’s racial inequity in housing. I encourage you to make the time to watch it.

 

 

 

 

 

One Volunteer Who Makes a Big Difference

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By Kristen Keefer

Entering into her 23rd year of volunteering at the Asheville ReStore, Susan Diehn remains fresh and energetic in her role. Recruited by a friend, Susan began volunteering at Habitat’s when the store was at its previous downtown location on Biltmore Avenue (pictured there, above L). Within her first year, she was volunteering her time from open to close every Tuesday.

As an experienced volunteer, Susan mentors new volunteers at the ReStore registers. She has held a vital role in helping many volunteers learn the ropes while they become more comfortable assisting shoppers.

For Susan, interacting with customers is one of the highlights of her position. She explained, “We try to be so welcoming to our customers, it’s important. We want their journey to be enjoyable and for them to come back.” Having someone as caring, friendly, and kind as Susan to greet and serve guests is of great value.

The Asheville Habitat ReStore is one of the most successful ReStores in the nation, in part because of dedicated volunteers like Susan.

Her caring personality drives her to serve her community and continues to bring her back to the ReStore. She knows that the livelihood of families, as well as their ability to thrive, begins with a stable place to call home. Because proceeds from the ReStore help fund Habitat’s building programs, her volunteer service directly impacts Habitat’s ability to fulfill its mission. Susan explained while joyfully smiling, “The children just bloom once they have a place to live and a neighborhood to play with other children.”

Susan shared how much she has enjoyed being able to work alongside future Habitat homeowners. Habitat’s homeownership program requires future homeowners to complete “sweat equity” (volunteer) hours, and some of their hours are often completed in the ReStore. Susan described becoming better acquainted with homeowner families as “so special”!

Susan has dedicated much of her time and self to service. In years past, she also served on Asheville Habitat’s Events Committee. And, in addition to her service with Habitat, she was once deeply involved with Interlace, a previously available housing program for women and children experiencing homelessness due to domestic violence.

When asked what aspect of volunteering she found most rewarding, Susan started to reply, “Knowing I’m making a difference” before quickly stopping herself. Following a short pause she continued by saying “I hope I am making a difference. I want to make a difference.”

The impact that Susan has made on the lives of others, both directly and indirectly, is vast and continues to grow week after week and year after year. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it is that Susan Diehn makes a difference in her community- a BIG difference! Thank you, Susan for being such a dedicated, knowledgeable, and giving volunteer. The ReStore is so fortunate to have you on board!

If you’re interested in volunteering, please click here to read about opportunities.

 

Sign Up Now for Singles Build!

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This Valentine’s Day weekend join 30 other young, single professionals for a meaningful day of making connections and making a difference.

Your $20 registration fee will cover the cost of building materials. Lunch is generously provided by Moe’s Original Bar B Que! Participants (age 21+) will also take part in fun meet & mingle activities and will be invited to a Singles Build happy hour at Village Wayside Bar and Grille at the end of the day! (Thank you to Village Wayside for contributing 50% off coupons to our participants!)
No experience is necessary, just come prepared to work hard on our construction site and have a great time.

♥ Saturday, February 11, 2017

♥ 8:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the McKinley jobsite off Taft Avenue in Shiloh neighborhood.

Step 1 – Sign Up: Create an account and register using our online system.
Step 2 – Donate: Your $20 donation will complete your registration; please click here to donate online. Please choose “Singles Build” as your Area of Support.
Step 3 – Build! You will receive an email confirmation upon registration and a reminder before your build day on February 11th.

For more information, please contact Sammie Smith, Volunteer Services Intern.

 

ReUse and Rolemodel: Just a Few Reasons These Two Choose to Volunteer

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by Kristen Keefer

Every Monday, Roger Gauthier and Stephanie Plemmons team up to assist people dropping off donations at the ReStore receiving dock. Their efforts help make the transition of items into the store efficient; while their kind approach to helping customers and donors keep people coming back.

Roger, a retired plastics engineer, has been volunteering his time to Habitat since February 2012. In addition to volunteering with Habitat, he won the Habitat for the Holidays First Annual 3D Ornament Contest in 2014. He has also participated in the ReStore ReUse contest. The “reuse” aspect of the ReStore’s mission is important to Roger. In fact, it is one of the factors that motivated him to become a ReStore volunteer. He has even repaired damaged donated items to prevent them from being discarded into the landfill.

Stephanie, a longtime fan of Habitat’s mission, decided in October of 2015 to offer a helping hand at the ReStore wherever it was needed. Furthermore, she wanted to set a good example for her son. She explained, “I wanted to show my son that volunteering is cool!”

Both Roger and Stephanie have always volunteered in receiving. They work fluidly together, happily greeting every car as it pulls up, unloading and sorting items, and keeping receiving in tip-top shape. They’re an all-star team, attentively putting care into even the simplest of tasks.

And, through these selfless efforts, Roger and Stephanie have experienced the gift of service, a kind of gift that is rewarding to the giver, not just the receiver. Both agree that it is encouraging to see so many items donated to Habitat and to know that the proceeds from the sales of these items will go towards affordable housing. Stephanie explained, “Building homes for families that really need them, that is just a fabulous cause!” And Roger confirmed, saying that the work they do in receiving generates a sense of accomplishment.

Thank you Roger and Stephanie for being a rockin’ receiving crew! Having you onboard helps keep receiving running smooth and contributes greatly to the ReStore’s mission. We are thankful for all you do!

Everyone deserves an opportunity to build a better future.

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Last holiday season, Shawntale’s reasons to move were many: an indifferent landlord, rising rent, and too little space for an active toddler. But most of all, she wanted to own her home so she could give her son a more stable future. In Asheville’s escalating housing market, her dreams of finding homeownership through conventional methods were out of reach. So she applied and was accepted into Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s homeownership program.

Morning after early morning, she finished a night shift as a Certified Nursing Assistant and then worked side-by-side with Habitat volunteers to build her home and the homes of her neighbors—once working 28 hours straight!

But before her Habitat house in Shiloh was finished, and with little notice, her landlord sold the apartment she was renting. With nowhere to live, she and her son crowded in with family until the house was complete, knowing this would be the last time their lives would hang on the whims of a landlord.

Now Shawntale is a proud homeowner, paying an affordable mortgage. She found the stability she longed for with the support of many Asheville Area Habitat donors and volunteers.

Shawntale looks forward to raising her son in the neighborhood where she grew up and giving back to Asheville’s historic Shiloh community through its active neighborhood association.

With your gift this holiday season, you can help 14 more families build stable homes in Shiloh and make a lasting investment in the neighborhood’s vitality.

Everyone deserves an opportunity to build a better future. And everyone can do something to make that possible for another family.

Fellow North Carolinians need our help!

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Fayetteville Area Habitat for Humanity and its community of homeowners have suffered a terrible fate in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. Of Fayetteville Habitat’s 154 homes, 93 Habitat houses have been flooded extensively, and 66 may be complete losses. “There are powerful and heartbreaking stories of families swimming out of their homes to reach rescuers, lost possessions, and the loss of beloved family pets. Habitat homeowners work hard to pay their mortgages but it will be difficult, in some cases impossible, for most of them to pay both a mortgage and also rent a place to live,” stated a representative from Fayetteville Habitat. Please keep these families in your hearts and prayers and read below to see how you can help.

Make a donation to Hurricane Relief/Fayetteville Habitat
DonateJoin us to help Habitat neighbors in need! Asheville Area Habitat is donating to the hurricane relief efforts of Fayetteville Habitat for Humanity in honor of our Board of Directors. We invite you to do the same. Donate online and select Hurricane Relief/Fayetteville Habitat in Area of Support. Thank you!

“Round Up” at the ReStore registers
From November 1st through December 31st donations collected through the register Round Up program will be donated to Fayetteville Habitat for Humanity for hurricane relief efforts. For example, if your purchase totals $9.40, please round up to $10.00. Small amounts can really add up to make a big difference!

Go to Fayetteville to volunteer
Please clear your calendar and join one of our service trips, if you’re able. The work will be basic demo/muck/gut. No experience necessary. Transportation and lodging will be provided. Some meals may be provided but each volunteer should be ready to pay the majority of their food expenses.
Sunday, November 13 (noon departure) – Friday, November 18 (dinnertime return) 4 ½ work days
OR
Thursday, December 1 (noon departure) – Sunday, December 4 (dinnertime return) 2 ½ work days.
Please email Stephanie asap if you’d like to participate.

Thank you for helping our fellow North Carolinians in need!

Hudson Hills is complete!

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“I come home each day through the street filled with smiling children on bikes, playing on the sidewalks and shooting baskets through hoops. I come home to people visiting and sharing and laughing and smiling on their porches or walking their babies or puppy dogs. I come home to a sanctuary. A place filled with so much love. Hudson Hills Soulshine.”
~ Rhonda, Habitat homeowner

Successful affordable housing initiatives require the partnership of many constituent groups – public, private and municipalities. Last week, we celebrated the completion of our most recent neighborhood, Hudson Hills. It was made possible with the support of the City of Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina Housing Finance Agency, the W&S Foundation (through Warren Haynes Presents: The Christmas Jam), and many local businesses, individuals, faith partners, and foundations. Funding was also provided by Habitat homeowner mortgage payments and ReStore proceeds. And in addition to funding, thousands of community volunteers – alongside future homeowners – built these homes.

House sponsor representatives presented ceremonial keys to the last six homes in the neighborhood, among a sea of children and large group of well-wishers. Executive Director Andy Barnett pointed out that three of the program participants have dedicated their careers to affordable housing: Bill Dowse from NCHFA (North Carolina Housing Finance Agency); Lew Kraus and Joan Cooper who recently retired from Asheville Area Habitat; and Jeff Staudinger, the City of Asheville’s Assistant Director of Community and Economic Development. Leadership from affordable housing advocates like these three, coupled with diverse funding partnerships, dedicated volunteers,  and future homeowner participation has proven time and again to be a recipe for a successful Habitat community.

With the strong foundation provided by decent and affordable homes, 24 more local families now have the strength, stability and self-reliance they need to build a better future for themselves. With a decent place to live and an affordable mortgage, these homeowners can save more, invest in the future, pursue opportunities, and have more stability. THANK YOU to everyone who helped us build Hudson Hills, a beautiful community of decent, affordable, energy-efficient houses, that are being turned into homes.

To see photos from the October 14th dedication event, please click here.

To see a short video produced by Buncombe County TV, click here.

Safe home in a tight-knit community is a dream come-true for the Trantham-Roper family

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By Kristen Keefer

This past June, Vicki Trantham and her two sons Geoffrey (Roper), 25, and Rowan, 10, moved into their Hudson Hills home, made possible by proceeds from Warren Haynes Presents: The Christmas Jam. The family harnesses a special dynamic, with oldest son Geoffrey (who is also on the deed) helping his mom Vicki raise her youngest son Rowan. The path that led this family to their forever home was filled with hard work and dedication. And today, the family is deeply rooted in the Habitat community.

Though their plates were already full when they began the journey to become homeowners, Vicki and Geoffrey enthusiastically embraced putting in sweat equity. Geoffrey shared, “It never felt like extra work. Volunteering on the weekends never felt overwhelming after the full 40 hour work week.” For him, being on the construction site was a valuable time to work with his neighbors, develop carpentry skills, and share the company of great people.

Geoffrey viewed sweat equity as an opportunity not an obligation. Geoffrey recalled, “The overall experience has been full of hope and very eye-opening.” He shared memories from his first meeting with Habitat homeowner selection committee members. Saying, “We felt so welcomed into the Habitat family. The committee members genuinely wanted to work with us.”

Currently Geoffrey is quite busy, working as a full-time pastry chef at Filo and actively playing guitar in local band The Spiral. And, though he has already completed his sweat equity, in the future he plans to return to the construction site to continue to volunteer his time to Habitat.

Geoffrey also lends his time to his younger brother Rowan. Vicki, who is a breast cancer survivor, expressed how helpful this has been to her, allowing her the opportunity to engage in activities away from home, including continuing her service with Habitat. Vicki is now a “core volunteer”, volunteering her time weekly in the administrative office, as well as at the ReStore. Being able to continue her service has filled her with happiness. She shared, “It’s wonderful to be able to give back and help other families. It’s what we wanted to do!”

The family is incredibly grateful for the opportunities they’ve been able to pursue since joining the Habitat community. Vicki shared that prior to purchasing a Habitat home they had been staying in a rural setting, in dangerous and nearly unlivable conditions. Relocating to Hudson Hills has not only given them a safe place to call home, but integrated them into a tight-knit community. Geoffrey explained, “We’ve never lived in a neighborhood before. It’s cool to see Rowan have so many friends in the neighborhood. I’m secondhand-excited for him!”

Vicki, Geoffrey, and Rowan are an inspirational family. When you meet them, you instantly feel at ease. Together they embrace a unique dynamic, sticking together through thick and thin. Their commitment to each other and the hard work they’ve put in to reach their dream of homeownership represents everything Habitat strives to support in building homes and building communities.

City Bond Referendums on Your Ballot November 8th

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Election Day is Tuesday, November 8, and while we’ve all been hearing about the Presidential race for months, there are many other important issues in this year’s election. We’ll be electing a Governor and a Senator in our state, for example. This year, the City of Asheville has three bond referendums on the ballot.

A general obligation bond is a way for cities to borrow money to pay for large construction projects. Because bonds aren’t part of the annual budget of the City, they get voted on in a referendum. Many cities regularly hold bond referendums, but Asheville hasn’t done so in over 20 years. These bonds will be at the very bottom of the ballot.

The three bonds are for: Parks and Recreation, Affordable Housing, and Streets, Sidewalks and Bike Lanes. You can read more about each of them on the City’s website, which includes a break-down of how the money will be used if the bonds are approved along with interactive maps so you can see the priority projects around the City.

Several large groups in town support the bonds, including the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce, and they created a website, Facebook page, and YouTube testimonials, which you can access here.

Early voting in North Carolina begins on October 20 and continues through November 5 at twenty sites around the County, which are open most days during this period from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. If you haven’t registered to vote at your current address you can do same-day registration during early voting. During early voting you can go to any of the open voting sites, but if you choose to vote on November 8, Election Day, you must vote at your own precinct site.