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Sunday, 27 October 2013 22:00

Habitat’s $5M initiative targets neighborhood revitalization in GR

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Habitat for Humanity of Kent County is in the midst of raising $5 million for its Building Blocks program that aims to revitalize neighborhoods surrounding public schools with home rehab projects and new construction, such as the project shown above in the Godfrey-Lee School District. Habitat for Humanity of Kent County is in the midst of raising $5 million for its Building Blocks program that aims to revitalize neighborhoods surrounding public schools with home rehab projects and new construction, such as the project shown above in the Godfrey-Lee School District. COURTESY PHOTO / BRI LUGANBILL

Habitat for Humanity of Kent County created a new initiative to help both low-income families who don’t have the means to buy their own homes and folks who can’t afford to pay for improvements.

The nonprofit agency is about $1.5 million away from reaching a goal of $5 million established as part of the “Building Blocks” campaign. The money will be used to improve the housing landscape in neighborhoods on Grand Rapids’ west side and for repairs to existing housing stock, said Philip Zoutendam, a spokesperson for Habitat of Kent County.

The organization hopes to raise the remaining funds over the next two years.

“This is not just about building properties, but rather a holistic neighborhood revitalization,” Zoutendam said. “That means that instead of just building single properties scattered around Grand Rapids, we’re focusing on particular neighborhoods on the west side.”

Habitat for Humanity is working in the neighborhoods close to the Cesar Chavez, Godfrey-Lee, Harrison Park, Sibley, and Southwest Community Campus schools. Zoutendam said these neighborhoods were selected because they were hit hard by the foreclosure crisis and the blight that resulted from the destruction to vacant properties.

“We were looking for places where there was a need and a real potential to be strong neighborhoods again,” Zoutendam said. “These areas have good access to transportation and jobs. They’re primed for growth and an economic recovery.”

Since opening 30 years ago, the local Habitat for Humanity has helped 400 families achieve their dream of homeownership. Zoutendam said the agency has been growing gradually and significantly over the last few years and that the capital campaign is a culmination of that growth.

About 45 percent of the funds raised will be used for the new construction and 46 percent will be allocated to home rehab projects.

He said the remainder will be used to make improvements to Habitat’s ReStore outlets, which sell used and surplus building materials that are donated to the agency.

“The ReStores provide a great sustainable funding model and a way to fund our projects without having to make an ‘ask,’” Zoutendam said.

During the official announcement of the campaign in mid-September, Habitat Executive Director Mary Buikema said her agency began the “Building Blocks” campaign with a dream and a goal. She credited the generosity of the Grand Rapids community for the agency’s ability to meet 70 percent of the campaign goal before it was announced to the general public.

She said the Building Blocks program extends the work the agency began with the city’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program three years ago.

As part of the Building Blocks program, Habitat acquired 40 West Side properties on which they will rehab or build new homes with Habitat volunteers in cooperation with families who are buying the homes. Some of the homes were acquired with assistance from the Kent County Land Bank. These homes will be demolished with a federal grant the land bank is administering.

“This is how we are going to conquer poverty in our neighborhoods,” Buikema said. “We’re not giving houses away, we’re empowering people.”

Within the next two years, Habitat will partner with 200 low-income families who will move into brand new homes built from the ground up or homes that have been completely renovated. To qualify, families must be between 30 percent to 60 percent of the area median income.

Zoutendam said the qualification process includes a review of the applicants’ work histories and an evaluation of their credit history. Those under consideration also must commit to putting in between 300 and 500 hours of their own sweat equity during the build or renovation of their home. They work alongside Habitat volunteers and staff who guide them through the construction process.

The agency has a general cost that varies with each individual project. Zoutendam said the cost per house is often between $100,000 and $125,000.

“Many families get to spend a significant amount of time working on their own house,” Zoutendam said. “These families also take courses in financial management and home maintenance. They’re better prepared than most families working towards home ownership.”

Participants in the Building Blocks program are given the opportunity to decide where they want to live, so families may be moving into the West Side from other areas.

While the homes are being built or rehabbed, there will be 160 beautification or renovation projects going on as part of Habitat’s “Brush with Kindness” program. About 3 percent of the funds raised from the Building Blocks campaign will be used for this initiative.

“Brush with Kindness is for people who already have homes on the streets where we’re working,” Zoutendam said. “This work could involve repainting the side of a house, painting the side of a garage or fixing up a front porch. This restores the home value and the owner’s pride in the house.”

Several Brush with Kindness projects have already been completed in the Roosevelt Park neighborhood and work began about one month ago on several homes in the Southwest Community Campus area.

The goal is to concentrate the work so that whole neighborhoods can be revitalized, Zoutendam said. Habitat officials said this will encourage homeowners to really have pride in their neighborhood again, which will increase pride in the community.

“Crime goes down and property values go up,” Zoutendam said. “Whole neighborhoods are able to take root and flourish again instead of being in a state of limbo.”

Read 3851 times Last modified on Friday, 25 October 2013 15:10

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