Future of uncompleted Habitat House is unclear

Published 8:19 am Tuesday, March 16, 2021

A Piedmont Habitat for Humanity project announced in 2017 to some fanfare still sits incomplete off of Elam Road.

Large weeds and small saplings have grown around the partially built home. Construction materials remain outside the home that is under roof, with most of the vinyl siding installed. The interior remains largely unfinished.

The home construction project known as the “Birdhouse Build” broke ground in early 2018. A press release from Habitat in November 2017 said the project was a collaboration between Piedmont Habitat, leaders and students of Prince Edward County Public Schools (PECPS), and Fuqua School, along with volunteers and community leaders. The name “Birdhouse Build” was because PECPS and Fuqua School have an eagle and falcon as mascots, respectively.

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Jayne Johnson, executive director of Piedmont Habitat, seemed to indicate the applicants for the home fell through in a statement from the organization, but did not explain why the home remains unfinished almost three years after construction began.

“Piedmont Habitat for Humanity works closely with every homeowner to ensure they have the necessary tools and resources to build a stable and secure future for themselves and their families,” Johnson said. “Habitat homeowners are selected based on their need for a decent and safe home, a willingness to partner, and an ability to pay an affordable mortgage. Applicant deselection may occur when a future homeowner is unable to continue to meet the selection criteria listed above. This is rare and will always be a last resort if all other options have been exhausted.”

Concerning next steps for the Birdhouse Build project, Johnson said the organization is still looking at where to go from here.

“We continue to evaluate options and next steps.” Johnson said.

Habitat said they could not comment on specifics for an applicant or homeowner due to privacy considerations. The organization also said they could not provide further comment when asked for an interview request.

Family and Communication Engagement Liaison Jennifer Kinne said PECPS has not been involved with the project this year. Head of Fuqua School Paul “Chance” Reynolds said he was uncertain of the school’s involvement with the project, as he was not head of school when the project first began in 2017.

TeOnna Walker, the mother of the family partnering with Habitat for the Birdhouse Build, is a photographer and works full time at a hotel and commutes to North Carolina. She and her six children live in Prince Edward County.

When the project was first announced, Walker and her family lived in a two-bedroom home and sought to make the situation work under financial hardships. Walker said as the Birdhouse Build project progressed, she and her family held out for the home and avoided moving.

During the period the house was set to be built, Walker purchased a vehicle to drive to work and to transport her family. That lowered her overall credit score and created debt.

According to the Piedmont Habitat for Humanity website, partner families are asked to “demonstrate [their] ability to pay the affordable monthly mortgage payments which include real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance premiums.” The families would “need to have a reasonable credit history without large judgments or collections that [they] are unable to satisfy. We will help you determine if your monthly payments will jeopardize your ability to meet all your other financial obligations and expenses.”

In addition to credit, Walker said another obstacle was communication between Habitat and her family. Walker said her family did not have an advocate with Habitat, someone who facilitates conversation between the partner family and Habitat and offers support and information to the family, until two years into the Birdhouse Build project. Partnership families take part in what is known as sweat equity, volunteering for Habitat projects and enrolling in homeowner courses.

Walker’s son, Kameron Jackson, 11, worked on the construction of the Birdhouse Build home with fellow members of the Fresh Boyz Club, a social group for young adults led by teachers at PECPS and their parents. Her daughter Iyara (Yaya) Jackson, 13, remembered being unsure of what to tell classmates when they asked her about the Birdhouse Build.

Walker said the lapses of time without knowing the status of the Habitat home, and the time her family invested in the build, were painful.

“The feeling of being ‘paraded’ around Farmville for events and giving time that will never amount to anything for my family hurts 100-fold,” Walker said.

Eventually, the living conditions in the two-bedroom home created health problems for one of her children, and Walker made the decision to move into a three-bedroom home at the beginning of 2020.

LaTrinda Abdus-Sabur, the mother of Walker, said the Birdhouse Build home was slated to be completed on her land. She can walk to the Birdhouse Build home.

Abdus-Sabur also cited financial issues and lack of communication between Habitat and Walker contributing to the project’s delay. She said that the project did not only affect her and Walker, but Walker’s children as well.

“Not having it finished has caused me great heartache,” she said.