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More than new homes: Habitat’s Home Repair is changing lives.

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Stuck. In an unsafe home. Without resources to make simple things work, like a toilet, or to hire an electrician to repair faulty electrical outlets. After twenty seven years of wear and tear, and without the skills or financial resources to make necessary repairs, this is the situation in which former seamstress Geneva was living. It is not how her story of home began, nor is it where she expected it to lead. But sometimes you can’t anticipate what life has in store.

Mold permeated her grandson’s playroom, dangerous makeshift electrical work dangled by a cord, and there was no functional toilet. For years she lived with her situation, believing there was no other option. But taking in her six-year-old grandson Kaleel motivated her to seek help. That’s when she discovered Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s Home Repair program.

Volunteers help repair the playroom.

After her application was approved, our Home Repair team got to work, addressing the playroom first—a moldy converted garage. To remediate the moisture-induced mold problem, our team addressed drainage issues to divert water away from the house, pulled up the carpets, and removed and replaced the water-damaged sheetrock and framing. They installed new wall paneling and a new window and door. Growing Kaleel now enjoys a mold-free playroom. During the short time since the repairs were made, his asthma has improved!

Our crew also replaced one toilet and repaired another so that the family now has two working toilets. Several lights in this West Asheville house were not working and required improvements to the electrical system. The unsafe extension cords running throughout the house have been replaced and now light illuminates every room, safely.

Safety. Stability. Good health. It all starts at home. For nearly 35 years, Asheville Area Habitat has provided affordable homeownership opportunities to individuals and families through our new home program. But, for many people, the most affordable home is the one they already own. For the past six years, our Home Repair program has improved safety and accessibility for existing homeowners and their families. We’ve completed nearly 200 projects, and the majority of our Home Repair clients are elderly or disabled—some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

We repair and replace leaking roofs, update electrical and heating/cooling systems, add ramps and grab bars, and much more. Homeowners like Geneva pay only a fraction of the market cost of repairs, thanks to their sweat equity, our volunteers and affordable financing through Habitat.

Everyone deserves a decent place to live, and everyone can do something today to help make that possible for another family.

Geneva’s is just one of many stories of need in our community. Your donation can build a roll-in shower for a disabled vet who couldn’t bathe in his old claw foot tub. Or, it can install a new furnace for an elderly woman who has weathered the winters for years with dangerous kerosene heaters. These are real-life stories from Home Repair clients.

Your donation can change lives. Please make a gift today to help more families like Geneva’s have a safe place to live. 

New House, New Beginnings

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The nine year old girl, center of her mother’s world, is too young to fully comprehend what her new Habitat home means to her mom and to their family. But she sure is excited to decorate her room and play with friends in her new neighborhood!

Elizabeth, the young girl’s mom, credits her daughter for inspiring her to better her future, and her father for encouraging her in the right direction. With motivation and support, she enrolled at AB-Tech, become a CNA, and secured a good job with a local alcohol and drug treatment center. Her next goal was straightening out her credit and becoming a homeowner. Mission accomplished, as she just signed her mortgage documents and proudly accepted the keys to her new Habitat home!

“One day she will realize how strong she made her momma,” said Elizabeth while proudly showing photos of her daughter and son, and waiting to sign her closing documents.

“I’ve had to make some very difficult decisions in the last six or seven years. If I stayed with her dad, I was staying in an abusive situation. But if I left that would mean my daughter would grow up without a father.”

Ultimately, Elizabeth chose the latter and is overwhelmed by everything she has accomplished for herself and her family — by herself. She was overcome with emotion as she looked at the key in her hand and thought back to a time of hopelessness. Proud of her perseverance and excited about what the future holds Elizabeth headed to her new home where her friends and her father were waiting to help her unload a U-Haul truck and unpack a fresh start.

If you’d like to learn more about Habitat’s affordable homeownership program, click here.

Volunteer Spotlight: Susie Emerick

By Alex Cox

Every Tuesday, Susie Emerick arrives at the ReStore and begins organizing and preparing her work space. Susie works in the linens area of the store, a department that receives, cleans, and prices various fabrics that are available for purchase. These tasks aren’t for everyone, but Susie enjoys volunteering her time in this capacity.

Susie’s days of giving back to her community through volunteerism began more than 30 years ago. Before moving to Asheville more than a decade ago, Susie lived in Baltimore for 30 years. She volunteered with various organizations there, including a hospital. “I used to volunteer at the Children’s Hospital in Baltimore, which was very important,” Susie explained. “We usually received babies that had had surgeries or other procedures, and they were with us for a while before going home.”

Her volunteering with Habitat for Humanity began in Brunswick County (NC) before starting with Asheville Area Habitat more than 12 years ago. She and her husband volunteer on house builds occasionally, but most of her work with Habitat has been with the ReStore.

“When I first called to volunteer (in Asheville), this was the only department that needed help,” Susie said. “This is good because cashiers and other volunteers often need to stay all day and get here early, but I don’t have to. I can be kind of behind the scenes, which I like.”

The ReStore utilizes the help of 140 volunteers every week. Many are like Susie – rarely seen by customers because they are busy in the backrooms. But their work as just as important as the work done by volunteers on the showroom floor. Susie describes a normal day of volunteering in the linens area, and the importance of behind-the-scenes work at the ReStore. “We clean the items, organize them, and hang them up. After that, we determine what sizes things are. Customers want to know that information, and it’s hard to just judge what size sheets or other linens are. They need to be measured.”

“My favorite part of working here is that it keeps me busy, but it’s also relaxed. I’ve volunteered in many places in the past, and I like the pace here,” said Susie. “It’s always something different and it’s always changing. It’s never boring.”

Susie also volunteers with Animal Haven, a local organization that receives abused or neglected farm animals and domestic animals such as cats and dogs, and provides them shelter, food, and rehabilitation. They also work with other organizations such as Meals on Wheels and New Leash on Life to provide support for low-income households that have pets. “I like the hands-on work at Animal Haven,” Susie explained. “I clean the habitats and feed the animals, and recently we did a metal run, where we do a large recycling project with aluminum.”

So on this Thank You Thursday, we thank Susie for her service with the Asheville Habitat ReStore and other organizations that need hard working and passionate volunteers to help them reach their goals. She is committed to making a difference in her community, and we thank her for putting in the time and the energy to do so.

If you’re interested in volunteering with Asheville Habitat, please click here to learn more.

Spring Break Builders

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By Sammie Smith, Hands and Feet of Asheville Intern

Every March, our construction site fills up with excited college students participating in their Alternative Spring Break. Collegiate Challenge – or as we affectionately call it, March Madness – brings students from schools all over the country to Asheville for a week of volunteering. This year, we hosted students from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Lesley University (Massachusetts) and Ramapo College (New Jersey). One of the highlights of these service trips is the Wednesday night dinner with a future Habitat homeowner.

The most recent dinner included volunteers from both Leslie and Ramapo. In addition to enjoying fellowship and a delicious meal (thanks to a Thrivent grant), the students reflected on the work they’ve done at the construction site and how it has impacted them. Kit, from Lesley University spoke about how amazing the construction supervisors are and how “they take the time to carefully teach us how to complete the tasks on the jobsite”. Ramapo student Carlie noted, “It was rewarding to see the progression throughout the day from just dirt and rocks to a clean, insulated crawl space.” She went on to talk about how important stable housing is for kids to excel in school. Another Ramapo student reflected on the comradery among future homeowners stating, “I’ve been amazed by the sense of community…Homeowners working on each other’s houses even before they move in. Every step is awesome!” After a few days of working on the construction site and in the ReStore, Shannon, from Lesley University shared “the more I learn about Habitat, the more I fall in love with the organization!”

Jeff Paul, Habitat’s Homeowner Counselor, explained to the students the comprehensive process that Habitat homeowners go through: from initial application, through sweat equity hours and homeownership education classes, to the final walk-through just after closing. He talked about the importance of a safe, decent, and stable place to call home and then introduced future homeowners Tim Bromely and his wife Jenny Giannetto and their three children. Tim talked about how excited their oldest son is to soon have his own room and what it will mean for their family to finally have stability. (They have moved 7 times in the last 9 years.) And he expressed deep gratitude to the students for their service with Habitat.

Thank you to all the Collegiate Challenge volunteers who dedicated their spring break to volunteering with Asheville Habitat! We are consistently impressed by these young adults who make service a priority in their lives and get involved in a hands on way, with causes that matter to them. When asked why she came to Asheville Habitat for spring break, Cheryl, a student from Ramapo College said, “Affordable housing is such a huge issue in the United States. If I can contribute in a small way, it’s worth it!”

To see photos, click these links: Ramapo, Lesley, and Southern Illinois.

 

Building More than Houses

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Each February, we celebrate our Construction Services volunteers with an Appreciation Breakfast. This year nearly 80 volunteers and staff members gathered as we celebrated collective accomplishments, honored longevity, recognized significant hourly contributions, and talked about the future.

Here are a few highlights shared during the event:
• More than 50% of the total volunteer hours contributed to Asheville Habitat’s construction program in 2016, were contributed by 80 construction “core” volunteers! These folks volunteer on our jobsite at least one day each week.
• Collectively, construction cores provided 17,570 hours of volunteer service!
• 28 cores each contributed more than 250 hours of service last year. Each received a golden hammer pin.
• The highest hours earner was CJ Obara, with 641 hours!

Longevity awards recognize years of volunteer service:
• 5 years – Beth Greck and Buddy Tallant
• 10 years – Ross Akin, Alan Cutter, Joyce Davis, Lou Farquhar, Neil O’Sullivan, Ken Roth, Sharon Waugh, Jim Worley
• 15 years – Ray Ducharme, Bob Laveck
• 20 years – Ken and Carol Deal (pictured, R)

We celebrated staff milestones, too. John Meadows has been a Construction Supervisor for 10 years and Kenny Busch just reached the 15 year mark!

Director of Construction Services Paul Reeves noted that 2016 was a year of change, with multiple staffing changes and four different building sites. None the less, our staff and volunteers rose to the occasion and served the largest number of families to date. 44 Home Repair clients and 14 new homeowners in Buncombe County now have decent and affordable housing.

Looking forward, we’ll be moving to Arden in the early summer to begin a 21-house subdivision, and we’ll be building a Habitat house in McDowell County as part of the SECU Challenge to build or renovate 100 houses in 100 NC counties. Also, we will solidify plans to introduce multi-family housing on a 16-acre parcel in West Asheville that the City of Asheville is helping us secure.

Home Repair Supervisor Joel Johnson thanked his core volunteers, Lonnie Lief and Garland Walker, who have been volunteering consistently for 3 years. Home Repair is unlike new construction in that the scope of work varies from project to project and the jobsite often changes daily. It’s difficult to plan a volunteer calendar in advance, so we appreciate Lonnie and Garland’s flexibility and commitment to the growing Home Repair program.

We were also pleased to be joined by Jeff Staudinger (pictured below), the Community Development Director for the City of Asheville, who was able to put Habitat’s contributions into the larger affordable housing context. He expressed the City’s enthusiasm for Habitat’s upcoming higher density neighborhood in West Asheville (currently referred to as Cedar Hill). Staudinger also referenced statistics from the Bowen Report and reiterate the City’s commitment to creating new public/private partnerships, and continuing to work to remove barriers, increase density, and strengthen the relationship between housing and transportation. “Shelter is the foundation for everything else,” he noted. “And as Habitat volunteers, you are working directly on the affordable housing crisis.”

In closing remarks, Executive Director Andy Barnett reminded the audience, “You are volunteering regularly to build the kind of community you want to live in…you are the hearts, hands and voices of affordable housing. You embody our mission.”

Habitat volunteers build and repair houses – and they build community. They help families build strength, stability and self-reliance. If you would like to be part of the affordable housing solution, click here to learn about Habitat volunteer opportunities.

To see event photos, please click here.

 

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.

 

From Bookstore to Boardroom: How One Volunteer Serves Habitat

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By Kristen Keefer

It was over twelve years ago that Cassie Dillon (above, R) began her service at the Asheville ReStore. At the time, she was traveling throughout the week for work but was still determined to find time to serve her community. She pursued a weekend opportunity with the ReStore and since then, has become a core volunteer in the bookstore. A book and music enthusiast herself, she puts care into connecting with shoppers who frequent the bookstore. Cassie plays an important part in ensuring that every ReStore shopper has a delightful experience, but this is not her only involvement with Habitat.

In 2014, Cassie joined the ReStore Committee and has been creatively collaborating with other committee members to keep the ReStore at its best since. She has also served on the Fund Development Committee for over a year, helping brainstorm ways to raise funds for Habitat’s building programs as well as special campaigns like Shiloh: Let’s Build!

Recently, she was asked to join the Board of Directors, which she says has already been a fascinating experience. Cassie says that becoming a member of the Board has furthered her understanding of Asheville Habitat in its entirety. She explained, “There is so much that goes into Habitat – mortgage lending, construction services, operating the ReStore, and ultimately serving the community.”

She also had a recent opportunity to experience a homeowner closing firsthand. She reminisced about the homeowner’s excitement and how impactful hearing “zero percent interest” was when reviewing and signing the mortgage documents. This is the moment that Cassie – and all Habitat volunteers, staff, and homeowners work together towards; the moment when a family achieves their dream of affordable homeownership.

Upholding Habitat’s mission is at the core of Cassie’s devotion to her to many roles within Habitat. She said, “I’d recommend volunteering here to anyone who has free time that wants to serve their community. Volunteering with Habitat is a worthy use of anyone’s time!”

With over a decade of service under her belt, Cassie Dillon’s contributions across so many areas of the organization have been greatly impactful and are deeply appreciated. Thank you Cassie, for your unwavering service to Asheville Area Habitat and your community!

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.

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