Local organization moves forward with new subdivision
The economic slump hasn’t stopped Union County Habitat for Humanity from exploring uncharted territory. The local branch recently started its biggest project to date when officials decided to build a brand new subdivision in Marshville. The neighborhood, dubbed “Gulf Bay Estates,” will be a 19-home community containing houses strictly for Habitat-approved families.
The project was born a little over two years ago when a local building company donated eight acres of land on Brewer St to Union County Habitat. Subsequently, the organization paid $50,000 for seven remaining acres and started the project soon after the purchase.
Primary development included clearing some of the land for building, installing water and sewer lines, and paving two cul-de-sacs. The infrastructure cost approximately $300,000.
After getting approvals from the state of North Carolina, the Union County Department of Transportation, the town of Marshville, and Anson County (which partners with Marshville to supply water and sewer services), Habitat started the first home in January. The organization dedicated three completed homes to local families last month.
The homes are three-bedroom, two bathroom houses and are generally valued at approximately $120,000. Habitat sells the homes to families at cost, cutting their monthly payments down to around $500.
Other than hiring licensed contractors to install electricity, heating and air conditioning, and water/sewer services, Habitat relies solely on volunteers to help with the project. “About 80 percent of the work is done by volunteers,” said Mike Reece, executive director of Union County Habitat. “We are always looking for additional volunteers to help with painting, hanging drywalls, and framing.”
Churches, school groups, and individual volunteers come from all over the area to lend a hand. College students from a program called the Collegiate Challenge spent their entire spring break helping the Union County Habitat. Shiloh Baptist Church out of Monroe recently send a youth group to help. Wingate University houses a program called Passport, where middle and high school students come from different communities to help with the project during the summer.
Recently, students, parents, and staff from Weddington High School provided over 1,400 hours to help finish a house. “We are hoping to partner with Weddington High School on another project,” said Reece.
This year’s budget for Union County Habitat is $1.3 million and will include the construction of 12 homes, which cost approximately $75,000 each. To help with costs, the organization started a recycling service about five years ago. The center, located on Old Charlotte Highway, collects plastic bottles and containers, aluminum cans, and cardboard materials.
Habitat uses funds from the service to put toward other projects. “We’ve grown in spite of (the economic recession), but we’ve had to be creative to make up for lost funds,” said Reece. “Recycling 250 tons should translate into about $40,000.”
The Union County branch accepts around 150 applications for Habitat housing per year. After careful deliberation, which includes six to eight months before approval, 24 to 25 families are chosen per year, allowing Habitat to donate two homes per month.
Union County Habitat plans to have two more lots completed in August and another two lots finished in October. Reece hopes to have all 19 homes in Gulf Bay Estates completed by September 2012. But the neighborhood is just part of an even bigger plan to have 100 homes constructed by the end of next year.
Since founded, Union County Habitat has built 83 houses in Union County and three houses in Pageland, SC. The organization plans to build the remaining 14 houses by the goal date. “We’re looking for additional land and would like to continue building medium-sized subdivisions, which include 15 to 20 houses,” said Reece.
During his 10 years with Union County Habitat, Reece has been inspired by the overwhelming response the organization has received from volunteers and relishes the fulfillment he gets every time a home is completed and a family moves in. “When we’re building houses, we’re building hope,” he said. “There’s nothing like handing someone the keys to their own home. That’s why I do what I do. It’s not just driving nails; it’s changing lives.”