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Building communities, building lives in Birmingham: Habitat for Humanity shows the way

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Habitat for Humanity Birmingham recently kicked off the 2016 Home Builders Blitz that will have 12 local homebuilders build 13 houses in just 7 days. The Blitz is part of phase one of a development on a 17 acre site in the East Lake neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama. (Frank Couch, special to The Birmingham Times)

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Habitat for Humanity Birmingham recently kicked off the 2016 Home Builders Blitz that will have 12 local homebuilders build 13 houses in just 7 days. The Blitz is part of phase one of a development on a 17 acre site in the East Lake neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama. (Frank Couch, special to The Birmingham Times)
Habitat for Humanity Birmingham recently kicked off the 2016 Home Builders Blitz that will have 12 local homebuilders build 13 houses in just 7 days. The Blitz is part of phase one of a development on a 17 acre site in the East Lake neighborhood of Birmingham, Alabama. (Frank Couch, special to The Birmingham Times)

Habitat for Humanity, known for building high-quality homes for low-income families, does more than just provide dwellings for those in need—it can change the face of an entire community.

“Often we’re in neighborhoods where nothing new has been built for years,” said Charles Moore, president and CEO of Greater Birmingham Habitat for Humanity.

A recent example is the Home Builders Blitz, during which 12 local home builders constructed 13 houses over a seven-day period. The event kicked off this month with phase one of a three-year, $6 million affordable housing initiative on 19 acres in the heart of Birmingham’s East Lake community, the former site of the Cascade Plunge entertainment park.

“Everyone who remembers spending time at Cascade Plunge gets a little twinkle in their eye when they talk about it,” Moore said. “It was built in the 1920s and was a place full of life for several decades, but it’s been abandoned and mostly forgotten for the past several years. We’re excited that this development will bring life back to this area at the heart of East Lake.”

During the blitz, builders and volunteers did more than just work on new homes in the community. They helped repaint homes, repair roof damage, and much more.

“We widened the street and resurfaced it,” Moore said. “We also put in sidewalks.”

Those types of changes often can motivate people living around the new homes want to improve their own.

“The neighbors are looking around and saying, ‘Well, maybe I’ll paint my house or fix my roof.’ It makes people want to improve their own situations, as well,” Moore said.

Homeowners

Joseph Smith knows the benefits of Habitat for Humanity.

Since age 14, he prayed to be a homeowner. Growing up in Birmingham, Smith would stay with his aunt until he had to go home, and then he would roam the streets. Now, at age 73, Smith is one of the individuals who took ownership of a new home completed during the weeklong Habitat for Humanity blitz in East Lake.

“Habitat did a good job. They took the time to make sure everything was built right, and they’re trying to make the neighborhood better, which I can understand,” said Smith, who added that his home is a blessing because now he has a place for when his grandchildren come visit.

Charline Hall’s dream of owning a home is now a reality. For years, she had sought a nice, safe place for herself and her two teenage sons.

“I live in the Kingston Projects,” she said. “I’m just excited to move out of there and into my brand new home.”

Her 17-year-old and 15-year-old sons—each of whom will have his own room in the family’s new home—passed by the site every day, watching it go from a concrete slab to a house.

“Every day is, ‘Wow, Mom!’ ‘Wow, Mom!’ They just keep wowing,” Hall said. “It’s been exciting. It’s been a blessing. I have brand-new everything. It’s beautiful.”

High-Quality, Affordable Housing

Greater Birmingham Habitat for Humanity was established in 1987 and has provided more than 700 homes since. Its purpose is to make “quality, affordable housing solutions available to low-income families.” The homes, which have zero percent interest mortgages, are built from the ground up for families who also help with the building process. Habitat aids in critical home repairs, as well, serving more than 1,200 families in the greater Birmingham area.

Over the course of a year, Habitat has an excess of over 10,000 volunteers, including future homeowners; most homes generally take about six weeks to build.

“A big misconception is that we just give away homes,” said Moore, who has been with Habitat since 2001. “The families not only build their homes but also pay for their homes.”

Working through the four-county area–Jefferson, Shelby, Walker, St. Clair—Habitat builds an average of 40 to 50 houses a year for families. Many of the homes in Jefferson County are built in Clay-Trussville, Irondale, Center Point, Bessemer, Hueytown, Pleasant Grove, and other areas.

“A lot of homes are built for single-parent families, and having a place to call home has a big impact on the kids. They get to grow up in a home, have birthday parties at their own home,” said Shawn McNaron, owner of Compass Home Builders, which partners in building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

McNaron, a former Habitat volunteer before working with Compass, said he is impressed with the impact the new homes have on the communities.

“They come into these communities and make them more beautiful and safer,” he said.

Contact Habitat for Humanity at Habitatbirmingham.org or 205-780-1234.