Signaling a broader focus on housing needs in the region, Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity is making new work out of old homes. Known primarily as a worldwide nonprofit that channels volunteered labor and materials into building new homes for needy families, Richmond's Habitat branch recently expanded its functions to include refurbishment of existing homes.
Leisha G. LaRiviere, Richmond Metropolitan Habitat president and chief executive officer, calls her Habitat branch's new rehab business "the ultimate recycle."
Habitat won't be rehabbing for homeowners at large, but they will be fixing up older Habitat homes for existing Habitat families, as well as homes that are donated to the nonprofit. They'll also be working on foreclosed homes at the request of local governments. Some of the rehabbed homes will be matched with new Habitat families, and others will be sold on the open market to help finance future Habitat construction projects.
Not only does this help working families buy a first home, it also battles blight and brings older neighborhoods back to life, says John Sydnor, who is spearheading the rehab program as Richmond Metropolitan Habitat's newly hired deputy director. "You don't have to build on an empty lot," Sydnor says. "We can go in and repair the fabric of the existing community. It's the most sustainable form of building we could do, and we're excited about doing that."
Some of the 1,600 other independent Habitat for Humanity branches nationwide already integrate rehab work into their business models, particularly in urban areas, LaRiviere says, but the notion is new to the Richmond area.
Richmond Metropolitan Habitat came up with the idea "as a direct result of meetings and discussions with regional leaders." It made good sense in this economy, too, she says: Renovating existing homes costs less than building new ones. In addition to being more affordable for Habitat families, the rehab projects may be easier for corporate sponsors to support, as opposed funding new Habitat homes, LaRiviere says.
Richmond Metropolitan Habitat's first local rehabbed home went on the market in mid-September; it's a two-bedroom Cape Cod on Gordon Avenue in South Richmond. Located off Jefferson Davis Highway near the Model Tobacco building, the gray, vinyl-sided home is priced at $115,000. Freshly landscaped, the house has new carpeting, laminate floors, appliances, bath and lighting fixtures and ceiling fans. Habitat also has furnished it for display purposes with pieces from its ReStore thrift shop, though LaRiviere says the home could come fully furnished for the right offer.
Richmond Metropolitan Habitat is offering $10,000 in down-payment assistance to qualified buyers — that is, lower-middle-class working families who might have trouble otherwise coming up with the down payment. LaRiviere is hoping that the buyer might be a public servant such as a teacher, police officer or firefighter.
The Gordon Avenue house was a former Habitat home that fell subject to foreclosure. That home notwithstanding, local Habitat homes have been virtually immune to the foreclosure crisis gripping the rest of the nation. There have been just six foreclosures of area Habitat homes over the last decade, LaRiviere says, among the 300-plus local families served since 1986.
Richmond Metropolitan Habitat (which also serves Amelia, Charles City, Chesterfield, Henrico and New Kent counties) makes home purchasing affordable for its low-income partner families with zero-interest mortgage payments. In addition to being required to put in 350 hours of "sweat equity" on Habitat projects, partner families also must take credit-counseling classes provided by Habitat corporate partners such as ClearPoint Financial Solutions and Capital One.
Additionally, if a Habitat homeowner becomes unemployed, the local Habitat branch (which holds the mortgage) will help that person connect with other nonprofits that will assist in a job search.
Richmond Metropolitan Habitat's new rehab arm will acquire its houses through three methods. Some will be donated, such as a home in eastern Henrico that was willed to Habitat by its recently deceased owner. Other rehab properties will be former Habitat homes that will be upgraded to be more energy efficient and easier to maintain. Richmond Metropolitan Habitat is now an EarthCraft-certified builder, employing energy-efficient and environmentally friendly methods in its new-construction and rehabilitation projects. Henrico recently donated $150,000 for Richmond Metropolitan Habitat to upgrade and rehab selected existing Habitat homes countywide.
"This [rehab arm] is also going to impact our volunteers," says LaRiviere. "They can come in and get additional skill sets. Rehabbing [houses] has a lot of different tactics and skills than new construction. ... This will [also] leave many more volunteer opportunities on our books."
Finally, Habitat will be renovating foreclosed homes with federal-stimulus funding through the city of Richmond's Neighborhood Stabilization Program Fund and the state Department of Housing and Community Development. The local branch has received approval to rehab four homes in the city neighborhoods of Barton Heights, Church Hill and Highland Park.
The bottom line, says LaRiviere, is that the program will directly benefit Habitat families in many ways, whether through providing funding for construction or providing available housing.
"We have 43 partner families who are approved and in our program right now waiting for houses," she says, "so the more rehabs we can attend to across these six jurisdictions, the more quickly we can help these families move in and become taxpayers and make this program work."