Habitat’s rehabbing more than just homes in Smithville
by Staff Writer
CORNELIUS – Three years after Our Towns Habitat for Humanity built nine houses on North Ferry Road in the Smithville neighborhood, a foreclosed home on the same street, purchased in November, is ready for its facelift.
Habitat’s Director of Operations
Rachel Meyers, who had her eye on the home since 2007 when she learned the homeowners were having trouble paying their taxes, bid on the home on Oct. 31, 2011. With no other bidders, Meyers became the owner in mid-November for $15,000.
Now that Habitat owns the home, Meyers said she and the construction staff have been debating whether it will be more cost-effective to renovate the home or tear it down and start from scratch.
Either way the work will cost less than if Habitat had to acquire the property and build the home from the ground up like it normally does.
This is the second home Habitat has purchased for rehabilitation – the first is on Delwood Drive in Huntersville and is still undergoing construction. There is no construction timeline yet for the home on North Ferry Street because Meyers said they haven’t identified a family for the home, which is the first step.
But when it is time for construction, Meyers said she wants to involve Goodwill’s construction services and training program so the organization can educate Smithville residents about the various training programs Goodwill has to offer and get the residents signed on.
All of this work is part of Habitat for Humanity International’s Neighborhood Revitalization program, which was spurred by the recession in 2007 and 2008.
Executive Director Terry Laney said many of revitalization efforts began in bigger cities, after the recession, through public funds. In smaller towns like Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville, the funds weren’t available, so Habitat decided to get on the revitalization bandwagon and focus on repairs and rebuilding, rather than starting from scratch since project sponsors were few and far between.
“This is just another way for us to reach out to families in need of affordable housing,” Laney said. “With the recession, we had to find a new way of helping more families.”
Laney said rebuilding and repairing is the way to go, because many times all a home needs is some painting, structural work and other repairs – work that doesn’t get done if a homeowner doesn’t have the disposable income to handle the repairs as they come up.
While this effort is new to Smithville, it was a new concept for the Habitat staff and board members as well, since in the past all of their projects have been constructing new homes. It took a while to sell people on the idea.
“But it’s happened, and it’s happening in Smithville,” Laney said. “This is an opportunity that could be very special. You see revitalization in big cities, but here in a medium-size community, the opportunity here is tremendous because we can replicate this in all four towns.”
Laney said his organization chose the Smithville community because the residents there were already working on ways to revitalize their historic neighborhood by creating plans to resurrect their community center.
“This community has been around since 1910, and it’s amazing how many people in Cornelius don’t know where it is,” Laney said. “Smithville is literally the center of Cornelius.”
He said when Habitat first began to work with Smithville residents they quickly realized the community’s strength.
“This is asset-based development, and the biggest asset in that community is the people themselves,” Laney said.
Before beginning work on North Ferry Street in 2007, he and his team met with Smithville residents to get their input and to let them know neighborhood revitalization would only work if the community participated, Laney said.
He said co-founder of the Smithville Community Coalition Lisa Mayhew-Jones said it best when she said, “We want a hand up, not a handout.”
But while many in the Smithville community were on board, Habitat still had a big obstacle of gaining the residents’ trust and getting them to participate in the repair projects.
“When we repaired a house across from the community center last July, residents just watched us, but a few months ago our construction manager did work on a home there and knocked on the neighbors’ doors to get help painting the house, and they helped paint her house,” Laney said. “When we were there in July, we were just planting the seeds. Now they’re benefiting from that trust.”
Meyers said the revitalization of Smithville is important because it’s what the community needs to bring back the vibrant, active community that was once Smithville – when activity revolved around the community center and neighbors felt comfortable spending time on their front porches.
Meyers said she hopes this revitalization will also help the outside perception of Smithville, regarding crime and safety.
“The residents don’t see that, because they live there, and sometimes, what we perceive is not always what’s going on,” Meyers said.
But crime was an issue on North Ferry Street. Because Habitat owned the majority of the homes on the street, they were able to work with the Cornelius Police Department and have security cameras installed on the street to monitor activity, which she said has helped.
Laney said there are a few other homes, and lots, in Smithville that Habitat is looking at as part of this Neighborhood Revitalization, but they’re still exploring their options.
“It’s just awe inspiring to be working with that community,” Laney said.