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AmeriCorps Reflection: Importance of Listening

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A reflection by AmeriCorps VISTA member Krysta Osweiler, who works in Homeowner Services.

“The more I’ve had the opportunity to speak with different members of the community (over 200 individuals in just one quarter!), the more I’ve seen the ways that the entire issue of affordable housing affects far more people than I ever thought it would. I came into my VISTA role knowing that there was a huge need, but as I’ve spent time talking with different community members, and really listening to their stories, I’ve seen many of the ways that housing can, and often does, divide people. Almost into the “haves” and “have not’s”.  For some, renting is a way of life. For others, it’s all they can afford. For even more, they haven’t once considered that there may be another option.

Each of my grandparents owned their homes, and my parents have owned a home since I was baby. I have never once considered that homeownership might be out of reach for me. But that’s not how it is for everyone, and depending on where you live, monthly mortgage payments could cost far more than rent would. Up until now, I’ve really seen the question of homeownership as being purely a matter of finances, without fully appreciating that there can often be a whole lot more at play in the decision than just money.

One of my most meaningful experiences was completely unexpected. I reached out to our local community college, wondering how I could best connect with their ESL students. Imagine my surprise when the response was an invitation to speak with their English conversation class! There were 9 class members on the day of my visit, each with varying levels of English proficiency. The facilitator had prepared a list of questions to discuss, specifically focused on housing, and it was pretty eye-opening to hear their responses. Some were interested in a house, but only after having children, once they’d really “need” the extra space. Others lived with extended family, and desperately wanted to be in a place of their own; but their cultures were the kind where multiple generations lived together, and not having other family members in the home would never be an option for them. One came from a city where literally no one could afford to buy a home of their own, so until this conversation, it had never once crossed his mind that people might do that.

Housing and “home” is something we all see very differently, depending on where we came from and what our point of reference is. I knew that if you always rented, and your parents always rented, and your grandparents always rented, that you probably wouldn’t recognize homeownership as an option for you. But I didn’t fully appreciate the ways that your culture could play into that, or how it can even go so far as to dictate your housing choices for you. Many of these international students had always lived with extended family, and really wanted to enjoy their apartments here, and the space to themselves. One even said that as long as they were in a small apartment, no one else would come live with them, but if they had a house, other family members would definitely be living there, too. That completely took away any motivation for them to purchase a house down the road. When my husband and I first bought a house, that wasn’t even part of what we considered. We wanted to have space for our family members to be able to visit. But for these students, having that space would mean something completely different. It wouldn’t have been space for visitors, it would have been space for long-term guests that wouldn’t necessarily leave.

These conversations have been an important part of sharing information about Habitat with our community. They’ve also been important as a way to educate people on both sides of the table. Not only did these students need to hear that homeownership is a possibility, I needed to hear what shaped their thoughts on the process. We each have a unique perspective, and every single one of those perspectives is valid. Until we really listen to the people on the “other” side of the table, we won’t be able to recognize how different our thoughts might be. Much of my time has been spent educating the community at-large about Habitat and the services we provide. In doing so, I’ve learned from community members themselves, and for that, I am grateful.”

Businesses Step Up to Support Affordable Housing

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By Beth Russo

“Giving is not just about making a donation. It is about making a difference.” ~ Kathy Calvin

We love working with our business community. Seeing our local businesses – both the large ones with multiple worldwide locations and the small ones located in downtown Asheville– step up to be part of the housing solution in our community brings us great joy.

Local businesses know that our entire community is stronger when residents – and employees – have decent and affordable housing. We see this throughout the year at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, but never more so than when building the Business Bungalow house.

Our 5th Business Bungalow, built in partnership with our local businesses, is currently under construction in our Candler community, Curry Court. The future homeowner, Belinda, will be unlocking her front door before summer begins.

Belinda has worked for Mission Hospital since 1999, and has been raising her son in a 1-bedroom apartment as a single mother. Like many people in our community, she got creative and Belinda turned a converted carport into a makeshift second bedroom, using a sheet for a door. This apartment had one other undesirable feature –a $400 plus heating cost during the winter months.

A sheet is not a door, and Belinda needs a permanently affordable option. She’s grateful to the businesses who agree – and are investing in her future home through sponsorships.

Our business community sees the benefits of providing funds – and volunteers – to support this work. Companies use this partnership to create meaningful employee engagement, to get team members to know each other outside of the office – and to be part of the larger community effort addressing a real local problem.

The financial support that local businesses provide – whether as a Housing Champion, Blueprint Sponsor or at a higher level – helps make Habitat homes affordable. Every dollar adds up to an affordable Green Built home that Belinda will purchase, with a monthly mortgage (and energy cost), that fits her budget. Asheville Habitat is proud to collaborate with our business community to make affordable homeownership within reach for more local families.

If you are interested in joining this diverse group of businesses, please contact me (Beth Russo) at brusso@ashevillehabitat.org for more information. Thank you!

Volunteer Team Makes Big Single-Day Impact

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By Ariane Kjellquist, with contributions from Sydney Monshaw

Like most of our Home repair clients, Ms. Priscilla McDowell is an aging adult in need of home improvements that improve access and safety. Our Home Repair team recently tackled the job of completely rebuilding two large, crumbling and unsafe porches at Ms. McDowell’s home. This included removing the existing structures and building a smaller deck and landing with less steep stairs. Thanks to a crew of four volunteers from Beach Hensley Homes, the project was completed ahead of schedule. “I was planning to spend at least a week at this job,” shared Project Supervisor Sydney Monshaw. “With Beach Hensley’s help we were able to complete this project in just three days!”

Their volunteers arrived on Wednesday to the old decks already removed and footers for the new one ready to go. In the first hour, the deck was framed and the posts were set. By lunch break everything had decking, the stairs were hung, and handrails had been started. By the time the Beach Hensley crew left at 4:45pm (staying later than needed because they wanted to get it done) they had the entire porch completed, with the exception of one stair tread and three kick plates. And that work was only outstanding because they ran out of materials! With just a handful of very small things to finish the following day, this 5-day job was done in just 2 ½ days!

It’s not surprising that a team of professional contractors work more quickly and efficiently than a staff supervisor and a few volunteers with less or no construction experience. Habitat is used to working with volunteers that run the gamut from never having used a saw to trade professionals that could do the work in their sleep. But this crew brought added-value in the form of knowledge sharing. They took a minute here and there to explain why they were making certain choices. Sydney said, “As the supervisor of this jobsite, I am grateful for their efficiency, skill, and knowledge. As a member of the greater Asheville community, I am grateful for their generosity and willingness to give back. Ms. McDowell is not only safer because of them, she’s also proud and excited about her new back porch.”

Home Repair for low-income homeowners is a significant and growing community need. The population of aging adults in Buncombe County continues to grow, and one of the best ways to help residents live with more safety, security and dignity as they age, is to help them remain in the homes they already own. To try to keep up with demand, we have grown our repair program by adding a second supervisor and a second work van, and we continue to utilize three AmeriCorps members. We increased our goal mid-year from 60 to 70 jobs. Additionally, we manage “Aging in Place”, a sort of program-within-a-program, that serves clients that come to us through a partnership with The Council on Aging. And this year, we did a community project with Poder Emma, in which we served 25 families in one day, and trained community members to serve another 75 with security and safety upgrades.

As you can see, being able to complete a project in half the time is a substantial win for a program with aggressive goals and a team stretched thin. If your business of trade professionals can spare just one day to volunteer on a Habitat Home Repair project, we would LOVE to have you! Asheville Habitat has committed to serving another 1,000 families within 10 years and 600 will be through Home Repair. Be part of our success story! To learn more, call 828.210-9383 or email swallace@ashevillehabitat.org.

 

 

 

A Daily Exercise of Gratitude and Generosity

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By Zoe Trout

Beasley Family

The Beasley Family

Sarah and Andrew Beasley are always looking for ways for their children, age four and nine, to be more involved in giving back to their community. Like many parents, they want their children to be generous and kind, good citizens of the community. However, with limited options for children to volunteer in our area, they have struggled to find meaningful ways for their kids to give back. A way that Asheville Habitat involves kids in its work and mission is through a calendar activity called A Month for Habitat for Humanity. child receives a cardboard house bank and a calendar and are asked to follow the daily activities. The calendar has a different activity each day such as, “For each room in your house, deposit 10 cents… Add 5 cents per window in your house…. If you have a garage door opener, deposit 35 cents.” The activities require the participant to observe the house they live in and recognize and appreciate how much they haveand it offers them a way to give back.  

The Beasley children received the house banks one Sunday from their church. They attend Grace Episcopal Church, a longtime partner in the Episcopal House XIII. The Episcopal House is built every other year and is sponsored by Buncombe County Episcopal Churches and the Episcopal Diocese of WNC. Churches provide funding and volunteer on the construction site to build a house, which is then sold to a qualified homebuyer. 

The Beasley family enjoyed spending the next month counting their blessing, and filling their banks with money to donate to Asheville Habitat. Sarah told us, “Not only did this activity involve our whole family counting light fixtures and air vents, but it also involved a great reallife math problem for my son (who loves math) to add items and convert it to decimals.” The reallife math really engaged his attention, she added. According to Sarah, it was so magical to have conversations about housing and gratitude everyday with her children. “My fouryear old daughter asked what we were going to give to our house each morning after breakfast.”  

To learn more about A Month for Habitat for Humanity or to get your own calendars and banks, please contact Zoe at ztrout@ashevillehabitat.org. Thank you! 

Click here to see the calendar.

 

 

 

Innovative Solution to Community Need

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Members of PODER EMMA and staff from Asheville Habitat’s Home Repair team came together to protect manufactured home residents and build community by having a community safety day to install new door security plates and solar-powered, motion-activated lighting.

Out of the office and onto the land

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By Ariane Kjellquist

“Redistribution of dirt and water,” is not a phrase I expected to hear on my recent tour of Old Haywood, a future Asheville Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. But it’s one of the first things Director of Construction Services Paul Reeves started talking about as we watched the excavator move with precision and he pointed uphill.

Before my visit to the Old Haywood site, I thought I knew what infrastructure and development entailed. Grading, running water and sewer lines and underground utilities, pouring sidewalks and paving roads. It is that– and much more. Going from site identification to construction is a lengthy and complex process; one that includes design, engineering, bidding, contracting and more. It is 2-3 years of work for a project of this size before we can even pull the first permit, pour the first foundation, or frame the first wall!

Within minutes of arriving on site, I learned that the soil being dug up to create a water catchment system near the front of the parcel was going to literally be moved up the hill, redistributed, compacted, checked by an environmental engineer, and eventually built upon.

I also learned that the environmental engineer will visit the site no less than 30 times during the infrastructure and development phase!

I learned too that working with the contours of the land can be difficult. As we walked the property it was evident that building a neighborhood in a mountainous region comes with unique challenges that flatlanders don’t face. Adding townhomes to the mix adds to the complexity. With the larger footprint of townhomes it is even more important that we have – or in this case, create – flatter lots.

And about the water…catching storm water and run-off and moving it safely across the site so it does not impact homes and foundations is part of the development plan, too. For example, an existing culvert will be replaced with a newer and larger one for better flow and performance.

Though I did not fully understand all that is involved in taking an empty lot to a thriving community until recently, I did know that Asheville Habitat has been doing this successfully for decades. Hundreds of families and thousands of individuals have built better futures on the foundation of safe, decent, affordable Habitat homes.

Unfortunately, there are still thousands in our community who need a decent, affordable place to live. And others may have a roof over their head, but just barely. 1 in 6 families in the U.S. pay more than 50% of their income towards housing costs and are forced to make difficult choices when it comes to other basic needs like food, healthcare, and transportation. Asheville Habitat is committed to empowering 1,000 more families to improve their housing in the next decade, and Old Haywood is one step towards this goal.

Old Haywood will be our largest neighborhood to date, with 98 units of affordable housing comprised of both single-family homes and townhomes. This is a bold step for us. But we have a history of being bold– and successful. We invite you to be part of a solution to our region’s affordable housing shortage. Give a gift, become a sponsor, volunteer to help us build, advocate for smart housing policies. Thank you!

 

Planning for the Future with Brattan Gelder

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By Jeff Paul

Owning a home is a BIG deal. And purchasing that home can be a stressful and confusing process. Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s Homebuyer Education program seeks to demystify the process and empower families to become successful homeowners. As part of required sweat equity, future homeowners spend close to 50 hours in the classroom learning about home maintenance, predatory lending, real estate closing documents and procedures, community resources and much more. One of the highlights of this program is the opportunity for each family to meet with local estate planning attorney, Brattan Gelder (pictured above).

Brattan has been volunteering with Asheville Habitat since 2011. Several times a year, he meets with the Homebuyer Education class to discuss the basics of estate planning. He carefully reviews the terminology, talks about the importance of having such a plan in place, and fields questions from families. Additionally, Brattan generously offers to each new homeowner (pro-bono) the opportunity to meet one-on-one to establish a personal estate plan. Contrary to popular belief, estate planning is not only for the wealthy. With complicated laws related to passing property and possessions to relatives, everyone can benefit from having an estate plan, especially homeowners.

As Astrid Andre reported in Shelterforce, “Since the least wealthy Americans have a larger share of their wealth tied to their homes and would be most impacted by home losses, enacting measures to mitigate such losses may have greater effect in preserving and maintaining wealth in these communities. Proactive measures like estate planning—placing safeguards during and after the lifetime of an owner, such as creating wills and trusts—can be a helpful tool for the preservation and transfer of real estate assets in some low- to moderate-income and minority communities.”

One new Habitat homeowner commented, “It meant a great deal for Brattan to help me with my estate planning. He has given me a sense of security to know that I have a plan put in place. I am now confident that my loved ones will have less worry with this plan. An estate plan is something not everyone thinks about or has, so I feel very fortunate to have one.”

In 2016, Brattan expanded his engagement with AAHH by joining the Board of Directors and most recently, he joined Habitat’s Homeowner Selection Committee. When asked what motivates him to volunteer with Habitat, he offered the following:

“There are several characteristics of Habitat that distinguish it in my mind from other charitable organizations. My favorite thing about Habitat is that Habitat doesn’t simply give anything to anyone. Future homeowners don’t receive gifts; they earn everything. Habitat identifies worthy partners who make lifelong commitments to themselves, their families, and their communities. Through hard work and cooperation, people from disparate backgrounds bond together to form strong neighborhoods and broader communities. The assistance that Habitat provides enables hard-working, honest people to live and work in a supportive environment, where their talents and skills can flourish. That stability allows Habitat partners to make a beneficial contribution to their communities. Habitat homeowners work diligently to make a better life for their families. In turn, a strong work ethic and determination are imparted to the next generation, who will recognize the value of working hard and giving back. Simply stated, I don’t know of any other organization that makes such a meaningful impact in the long-term well-being of the community. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?”

Thank you, Brattan for sharing your time and expertise to help families build – and secure – a better future!

 

 

 

Congrats to our Homegrown Leaders!

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Asheville Habitat’s Cassidy Moore (L) and Beth Russo (R) recently graduated from Homegrown Leaders program, a regional leadership and economic development program that develops and supports highly-motivated leaders who are committed to building regional collaboration across multi-county regions in the state. Homegrown Leaders is a program of the Rural Center and is sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and corporate, government and philanthropic partners.

NC Rural Center President, Patrick Woodie, presented certificates to the program’s 29 graduates on the last day of training. “Rural leaders like our Homegrown Leaders graduates are critical to the long-term growth and vitality of North Carolina’s communities,” said Woodie of this class of graduates.

Class participants included economic development professionals, educators, and civic and nonprofit leaders. “The Rural Center promotes leadership that is inclusive, connected, informed and creative. These graduates will join the Rural Center’s leadership alumni network of over 1,200 rural leaders across the state of North Carolina,” said Bronwyn Lucas, director of leadership for the NC Rural Center.

“This was an incredible learning experience. From developing new relationships with peers across the region, to discovering both new and long-existing programs in our area, I learned valuable information and skills to put to use in Western North Carolina. I also left refreshed – because it was so encouraging and inspiring to see so many talented and passionate people implementing and sustaining programs to make our communities safer and stronger,” noted Russo.

Three additional Homegrown Leaders trainings will take place across the Appalachian Regional Commission’s NC counties over the next year with the next one scheduled for May 29-31, 2019 at Western Carolina University. For more information, visit the Rural Center’s website.

Businesses That Build Homes and Communities

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By Zoe Trout & Beth Russo

We love our business community!

Local businesses know that our entire community is stronger when residents – and employees – have decent and affordable housing. We see this throughout the year at Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity, but never more so than when building the Business Bungalow.

The fourth Business Bungalow started construction last week, and is a house sponsored by local companies of all sizes. Longtime supporters Eaton Corporation launched this year’s Business Bungalow with a $20,000 challenge gift. In their 11th year of sponsorship, Eaton made this gift and encouraged other businesses to get involved at any level. Business Bungalow 4 has raised more than $52,000 so far, with over 40 businesses participating!

This house sponsorship includes all size businesses (from very small to very large), who band together to help build an affordable, energy efficient home. Restaurants like Copper Crown give a percentage of their proceeds from one evening of sales, while Rezaz is running specials throughout the month of March to support this build.

Other companies, like Blue Ridge Orthodontics, use their sponsorship support to bring their employees from the office out to a Habitat jobsite to share a team building experience volunteering to build this house.

The financial support that local businesses provide – whether as a Housing Champion, Blueprint Sponsor or at a higher level – helps make Habitat homes affordable. Every dollar adds up to an affordable Green Built home that a deserving family will purchase. Asheville Habitat is proud to collaborate with so many local businesses to make affordable homeownership within reach for more local families. Click here to see all of our wonderful sponsors! We are especially excited that this year’s Business Bungalow is the first townhome built in our 36-year history. Now offering a mix of housing types, this is another way Habitat is working to create even more affordable homeownership opportunities for folks that live and work in Buncombe County.

If you are interested in joining this diverse group of businesses please contact Beth Russo at brusso@ashevillehabitat.org for more information. Thank you!

Diverse Group of Sponsors Help Empower Five Families to Build Better Futures

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By Zoe Trout 

More than 100 Habitat friends and supporters recently gathered at Givens Estates for a 5-Home Dedication. Typically held on the jobsite, we take this celebratory event indoors in February and serve a warm chili lunch. Given’s graciously donated the space this year and their amazing culinary team prepared a delicious meal. We are grateful for their ongoing partnership and this new form of support. 

With five homes being dedicated, the program was filled with words of joy from all different voices – faith communities, businesses, and individuals. The event started with music from Aaron Price, Music Director at West Asheville Presbyterian Church—a longtime partner in the Presbyterian Methodist House. Their annual benefit concert for the Presbyterian Methodist House will take place on February 24 (reschedule from January 20). Lynn Bledsoe, Chaplin for Givens Estates did the invocation for the event and recited the E.E. Cummings poem, “I thank You God for most this amazing day”. 

I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes 

We celebrated more “yeses” with the 35th Anniversary House presented by AvL Technologies. On behalf of the company, Krystal Dredge presented a ceremonial key to Celia Ramirez, who closed on her home in Arden in December. Celia thanked everyone for their support– the sponsors of her house, her employer Diamond Brand, and all the volunteers that worked on her home. She choked up a little when describing what it meant for her and her son to celebrate Christmas and the New Year in their new home. 

Robyn Mondin of sponsoring business Wells Fargo presented a ceremonial key to Mary Leake, who purchased the Voluntourism House in January. This home celebrates the many visiting groups that come to Asheville and support Habitat’s work financially and through volunteer service. “My favorite part of the Habitat process was working on the jobsite building my house and my neighbor’s homes,” she noted. 

Merritt Moseley, a volunteer at Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church presented a key to Shaketia Simpson and her two children, who had just closed on their home (the Presbyterian-Methodist House 27) the day before! Merritt has been volunteering with Habitat for 10+ years and coordinates volunteers from Asbury UMC annually for the Presbyterian Methodist House, or as he calls it – the Methodist Presbyterian House! 

Tyerecka Howell will purchase the 20th Interfaith House in March. There with her older son, she told the crowd about her struggles to complete her sweat equity after the pre-term birth of her youngest son a few months before. But with the support of Habitat and her family, she was able to complete most of her hours while on maternity leave. Presenting Tyerecka with her key was Nancy Sehested the pastor at Circle of Mercy, one of the Interfaith House congregations. She recapped her experience of participated in our “Clergy Build” day on the jobsite last year, noting how invigorating it was to build together with people of all different faiths and backgrounds. 

Jack Webb and Nancy Allen presented a key to Iurii and Galyna Lanovyi. Cassie Dillon was also a sponsor of this home. Of this family that immigrated to the US for religious asylum, Jack spoke about their incredible hard work and determination. Despite a language barrier, the connection between these sponsors and the homeowner family is very strong, and was quite evident.  

Near the end of the program, Marge Marsh, a longtime ReStore volunteer and a resident of Givens Estates, led guests in a lovely Litany of Dedication. This event celebrated the last of the homes in the 21-house Arden neighborhood. United around the vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live, this joyous event brought many different people from various backgrounds together to celebrate what is accomplished when people work together for a common goal.  

To see a few photos from the event, click here.

If you’d like to learn about Habitat sponsorship opportunities, please click here or contact Beth at brusso@ashevillehabitat.org 

 

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