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VIP at Home: Legacy Point Habitat For Humanity



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By Lee Rennick

On a cold fall afternoon, a group of people of all ages, all walks of life and many ethnicities got together in a parking lot in Smyrna to build the walls for Makeitha Davis’ home. Davis is buying one of the first homes being built in Rutherford County Habitat for Humanity’s (RCHFH) affordable housing development, Legacy Point. The neighborhood will represent the very essence of Habitat, a community of homes being built by the community. 

The first two homes in Legacy Point will be sponsored by Nissan North America, Inc. and Schneider Electric. Davis’ house will be this year’s Nissan North America Build. The panel build for Davis’ house was held with the local Rotary clubs. Having a safe and stable home for her five-year-old daughter is Davis’ number one goal. The Schneider Electric Build will be for Ali Ahmed, an Iraqi who fled to Syria in 2005 when his country became too dangerous. In 2014, his family left their home in Syria and everything they knew to come to Tennessee to new start a new life. Ann Hoke & Associates Real Estate and SEC, Inc. held his panel build Ann Hoke, who is currently the President of RCHFH, says that Habitat is not about giving a fish, but teaching the new homeowners how to fish. They are giving families a chance at a better life through the entire Habitat for Humanity program. 

A new beginning is what Legacy Point is going to be all about. As Hoke says, building the homes is only a small part of what happens in the process, it is a lot more about people becoming part of the Habitat Family. Initiation into the fraternity is a process that includes the ability to attend a 30-week homeowner education program and completing 300-400 hours of sweat equity. It is not for everyone, but those who participate feel empowered. 

BECOMING A HABITAT HOME OWNER

The process begins with an application at the end of one year for the beginning of the next. In 2018, Rutherford County Habitat for Humanity handed out 262 of them for 2019, but they could only select 15 families. The income qualifications ranged from $16,800 for one person to $84,500 for an eight-member family. Applicants are interviewed then passed on to the Homeowners Selection Committee, made up of volunteers from Rutherford County. Finalists are recommended to the Board of Directors for approval.  

“Once approved,” said Terri Shultz, Executive Director RCHFH, “future homeowners start their Homeowner Education Program. It usually takes nine to twelve months to go through the program.”

Habitat’s Homeowner Education Classes are something many of us could use before buying our first home. By the time applicants are done, they are prepared to tackle the financial, legal and maintenance matters tied to home ownership. 

Schultz explains that each future homeowner must complete 50 hours of training. The program is run by Regina Harvey of Dominion Financial Management, Inc. and Angie Ezell, RCHFH’s Homeowner Services Coordinator. In addition to financial and money management issues, the classes also include a very popular nutrition program given by the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Office, a class on health and air quality aspects of a house, and they bring in experts to provide information on insurance, banking, wills and legal issues. Finally, the RCHFH construction crew gives hands-on instruction on typical home repairs and maintenance issues. After moving into their new home, participants will attend 20 additional hours of education.

“It has been a good process for me,” said Davis. “Budgeting on a limited income has been the biggest lesson. I never knew how hard it was to stay on a budget.” 

When Davis came to Habitat, she was quiet and shy, but now she is a vibrant member of the Habitat family. In photos of her panel build, she can be seen beaming as she works side-by-side with community volunteers. She is a single mother who shares that her daughter, Alaina, is very excited to have her own bedroom, which she plans to decorate with unicorns and Legos covered in glitter. Her daughter is the center of her world and her reason for going after her dream of home ownership. 

Ahmed approached Habitat, because he could not buy a home through standard means, as his work and credit history were left behind in his unstable homeland. While he grew up in a middle-class family, life is very different in the United States, and he has had to start over. Currently, he works as a department manager for Wal-Mart, while he is also an accounting student at MTSU. 

“When volunteering to build a home,” said Ahmed, “it is amazing with all the people coming together…You never see anything like it in other countries. It is like a dream. I can’t believe it is happening.”

BUILDING A HABITAT HOME

As the future homeowners are completing the education program, meeting their financial goals - such as lowering their debt-to-income ratio - and doing sweat equity, they are given a choice of plans and materials selections, such as siding color and interior finishes. Once RCHFH has determined the bedrooms needed for the applicant, the homeowners choose from Habitat’s library of stock house plans.   

“Our homes for Legacy Pointe will be 1,200 to 1,400 square feet,” said Schultz, “with a one-car garage, concrete driveways, … and [be] Energy Star Certified.”

Long before the ground is broken to build the new home, business sponsors join the process to provide funding and their own sweat equity. Schneider Electric and Nissan have been working side by side with Ahmen and Davis, respectively, almost from the start. Both companies are committed to help the homeowners make the house their employees will be building into a home. 

“Partnering with Habitat on a home build is a true pleasure,” said Dan Mayberry, Supervisor Automated Power Solutions at Schneider Electric, “which is greatly enhanced when we can participate with the future homeowner on the builds. It is very rewarding seeing the excitement of a new homeowner watching their future home come together.”

“Our volunteers work right next to the family over the course of several weeks to build a home from the ground up,” said Jeff Younginer, Vice President of Manufacturing, Smyrna Vehicle Assembly Plant at Nissan North America, Inc. “Our employee volunteers love getting to work with the family and not just build a home, but build friendships along the way.”

Schneider Electric has been working with Habitat for at least 12 years on the local level, according to Mayberry, and they have an even longer partnership in donating Square D brand electrical panels for home builds at the corporate level. The company is very committed to supporting initiatives such as Habitat, especially at the local level where individuals have the opportunity to give of themselves and support others in their communities.  

“Many employees are eager to get started on a build and follow the progress through completion,” said Mayberry, “even if they only actively participate on one phase of the construction.”

Nissan has been involved with Habitat for Humanity for nearly 15 years. Their support began in 2005, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The company donated a fleet of Nissan TITANs to assist with recovery effort.  Since then, Nissan and Habitat have worked in partnership to help 135 families across the country build safe, affordable and sustainable homes.  Davis’ home with be number 14 for the Nissan Smyrna team.

“Our tagline at the Nissan Smyrna plant is ‘We build more than great cars’,” said Younginer. “What that means is we are also involved in building the community around us. We love our longstanding partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Not only do we get to give of ourselves, but it is also a great opportunity for team building when team members from different areas of the plant get to work side by side with our partners. It is especially special for me to participate and meet folks that I might not normally interact with.”  

IMPORTANCE OF HABITAT TO THE COMMUNITY

Rutherford County Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit, non-denominational Christian housing ministry. Habitat builds affordable housing for families who earn 30 to 80 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) and have little opportunity to own a home. Many of these families are cost-burdened, spending over 30% of their income on housing due to the real estate boom in Rutherford County. The boom is creating a growing lack of affordable housing to meet the needs of the workforce. It is an issue being seen in many parts of the country, but the boom here is creating even greater stressors. Legacy Point will be able to address part of this growing need. A by-product of the program is that it helps their homeowners build lives of strength, stability and self-reliance.

The Rutherford County Area Habitat for Humanity was started by a grassroots group of volunteers under the leadership of Jack Goodrich. They operated out of the basement of First Presbyterian Church for many years. The first home was built on Hancock Street in Murfreesboro and dedicated in May, 1991. That first home was built for a writer for the Daily News Journal, who was dying from cancer. His dream was for his young family to have a home before he passed away. Habitat allowed him to realize his dream. All of the early homes were built entirely with volunteers and subcontractors, as Habitat didn’t have an in-house construction staff. 

After 13 years of purely volunteer leadership, RCHFH hired their first Executive Director in 2002, Beth Smith. She moved the organization forward, working with the City of Murfreesboro, building new homes where they helped tear down dilapidated and boarded up houses. Some of these houses attracted criminal and drug behavior, the Habitat projects helped cut crime and made the neighborhoods safer. Smith led the charge building seven homes on Sevier Street in Murfreesboro in 2007. That project transformed that entire street. Habitat has also built six homes on Johnson Street in Smyrna where there were deteriorating structures and trailers.

After Smith’s untimely death in 2014, Shultz came on board, building on Smith’s legacy and taking the non-profit to the next level. Legacy Point is the organization’s major success of the last decade, and Shultz plans to keep going. 

“Legacy Point is a major milestone and we expect that funding and construction will increase dramatically. We expect to buy another property for a subdivision,” said Schultz, “possibly in Smyrna or LaVergne, in the near future…The subdivision helps us control the land costs and makes the construction process more efficient.”

As of the end of January 2020, RCHFH has completed 164 homes in Rutherford County. Homes are built in Murfreesboro, Smyrna and LaVergne.

Like all Habitat for Humanity affiliates, RCHFH operates under the same mission, goals and values as Habitat for Humanity International, but they are responsible for raising their own funds for programs and operating expenses. Much of their administrative costs are funded through their ReStore, which sells both donated household goods, repurposed construction materials and new items to the public. Other funding comes from events like Hammer Down for Habitat Motorcycle Poker Run (the third Saturday in September), the popular Cookin’ To Build chili and soup tasting in community painted bowls (the first Saturday in November) and Leave a Legacy dinner (in March), for which Legacy Point is named. 

“Funds from our annual fundraiser, Leave a Legacy, … were designated to purchase land,” said Schultz. “And with the addition of grants and other donations, RCHFH was financially positioned to purchase the 18-acres on Twin Oak Drive in Murfreesboro. It made sense to link the name of our development to our fund raiser. After all, that was the point of the event.” RCHFH has been awarded several distinguished honors for their work in the county, including, Outstanding Community Awareness Award, Excellence in Housing Award, The Jerry Anderson Humanitarian Award and Habitat for Humanity’s State Impact Award as Affiliate of the Year.

THE NEXT STEPS

As Davis and Ahmed prepare for the ground breaking on their new homes, there are still many things to do. 

“We [will] hold a Lot Blessing at their house site to commemorate the start of the construction,” said Schultz. “During this time, the construction and mortgage process continues, and a schedule is determined for completion. Then there is the House Dedication and Ribbon Cutting. Following that the mortgage is complete for closing, and the homeowner moves in, usually within a few weeks.”

Many think of Habitat for Humanity as giving these homes away. Nothing is further from the truth. After the home is completed, it is sold to the family at no profit with a zero-interest loan.

“We offer home ownership to anyone willing to work together to build it, be responsible for taking care of it and staying on budget [to make the payments],” said Hoke. “Those who work [toward the goal of home ownership] appreciate it more, are good citizens and their kids stay off the streets. That is why I am so excited about this community.”   

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