Habitat project expands

Published 8:00 am Thursday, November 10, 2022

The partnership between Piedmont Habitat for Humanity and the Commonwealth Regional Council (CRC) is expanding in Prince Edward County. That means instead of four houses, five new Habitat projects will be going up over the next few months.

Last week, we gave an update on the operation, which is set to be completed early next year. Now, we have an expansion to talk about. But first, let’s explain how this came about.

FINDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING

Based on a Dec. 2021 report by Virginia’s Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC), 29% of households in the state struggle with housing costs. Nearly half of those spent more than 50% of their income on housing, both rental and owned. And as mentioned, it’s a problem here locally. The study found 67% of households struggling with housing costs either lived in this region or in Northern Virginia.

So what’s causing this problem? Housing prices keep rising. The median home sales price here in Virginia climbed 28% over the last five years, to $270,000 at the end of 2021. In the last three years alone, Virginia’s supply of “starter” homes has dropped by 40%, says the Virginia Realtors Association. Enter the Virginia Housing Development Authority (VHDA).

Created in 1972 by the Virginia General Assembly, the VHDA is a self-supporting nonprofit. Their goal is to help people get into affordable housing through different programs. In July 2021, five months before the JLARC study came out, Virginia Housing launched a new program. Instead of working with individuals, they gave $40 million total to planning districts across the state. Each one received a specific amount and a deadline, when they needed to have construction finished.

The CRC, a planning district that includes Prince Edward, Buckingham, Charlotte, Amelia and Lunenburg counties, received $2 million. That money was meant to build 20 homes, a project with a deadline of June 2024.

To help meet that deadline, the CRC reached out to several partners, asking for project ideas. The group received six applications and ended up awarding money to three projects, partnering with Piedmont Habitat for Humanity, the town of Blackstone and Smyth Properties LLC. Piedmont will build 11 homes, the town of Blackstone will help build three and Smyth will build six.

HABITAT’S PORTION

Habitat’s funding for 11 homes will now cover the cost for five in Prince Edward County.

“Originally, we thought we would only be able to do three,” said Sam Rabon. He works as Director of Resource Development for Piedmont Habitat. “There are four lots, but we weren’t quite sure about making it fit right.”

After clearing the lots, the group found there was space to fit one more on the property. After looking at the property and money from the grant, a fifth project has been added to the group. This one will be going up on Highlawn Avenue in Farmville, on a vacant lot next to a home the group assembled last year.

“It’s been kind of a moving target as we figure out the logistics,” Rabon said. “We own two lots (on Highlawn). We did one last year and there’s (space) for one more.”

There is still some work to be done on this lot before it’s ready for a home to be placed, with trees and brush needing to be cleared.

Now when we say a home will be placed, we mean exactly that. Habitat is trying out a different method of assembling a house, thanks to some help from Cardinal Homes. The Charlotte County based company is building modular homes, prefabricated buildings that come in sections. Rabon said in this case, with a deadline to meet, modular homes just made sense.

“It allows us to serve more families in the same timeframe,” Rabon said. “We’ll still be building homes from the ground up. But we’re working with partners. These are built to the same standards as we would if built on site. We feel really good about the product.”

STILL ROOM FOR VOLUNTEERS

Foundations on the Andrews Drive homes should be going in over the next few weeks, Rabon said. The last of the Farmville modular homes should be delivered in January, with plenty of work left for volunteers.

“There will still be plenty of opportunities once the home has been delivered,” Rabon said. “There will still be work to be completed by Habitat construction staff and volunteers, including finish carpentry, cabinets, porches, and landscaping.”

Once these homes are complete, Habitat will focus on three to be built in Crewe, and three more to go up in Charlotte by late 2023.