Each weekday, Roxanne Harris does something for other people’s children that she’s been unable to do for her own – take them home to a house filled with love, warmth and a mortgage.
Oh, her three children have warmth and love, but they live in a cramped apartment that takes up about half of her monthly income for rent.
As a Wake County schools bus driver, Harris has discovered what many of us in the Triangle already know – affordable housing is not so affordable.
That’ll change soon, when Harris’ husband, three daughters and she move into their home being built by Habitat for Humanity on Neuse Ridge Road.
Habitat for Humanity Wake County is, along with Habitat in Orange, Durham and Cumberland counties, constructing four homes simultaneously for four families.
“Who doesn’t love their bus driver?” Danita Morgan, a vice president for Habitat for Humanity in Wake County asked, laughing. “The people who work in Wake County schools and the students – all of them are going to be working to be a part of this, volunteering and spreading the word. Roxanne is fabulous, and everybody is looking forward to being a part of her house.”
In addition to the Harris family’s home in Wake County, Lucia Perez, a single mother of three who works for Chalmers Enterprises, will get one on Blacknall Street in Durham. Also, Thein Oo and his wife, Lewh Eh Paw, will get a home of their own to own on Sykes Street in Chapel Hill. Oo, a housekeeper at UNC, and his wife, natives of Burma, met in a refugee camp in Thailand before coming to America.
Hurricane Matthew put such a hurting on the people in Cumberland County, Morgan said, that Habitat there hasn’t yet had a chance to pick a family to receive a home.
I’ve been to many Habitat construction sites, even tried to help once, until the foreman told to me to just get out of the way because I was slowing them down. That’s why I was in awe that they were building four houses simultaneously. Morgan said that is not unique. “We build 60 houses a year,” she said, “so we build lots of houses all the time, with Durham and Orange counties. This is the first time we’ve joined with Cumberland.”
What’s unique about the current project, she said, is the way it’s being funded: by you.
“What this ‘Building Together’ project is going to do is – we’re going to build these houses with the communities. Every single person in all of these communities can be a part of it. This will be done with many, many individuals and families. It’s going to be a different model” than in the past.
In the past, she said, most of the funding for the homes came from Big Business. Just before I talked with her, she had been to the site of a home sponsored by Lowe’s. This time, she said, “because of News & Observer support ... y’all are going to take this story to your readers and tell them about it, and they’re going to have an opportunity to give. Normally, at Habitat Wake, for example, a house might be sponsored by MetLife, or Lowe’s, or Publix supermarket or a group of churches. This year, we said, ‘Why not the entire community? Why not, instead of several large gifts – which are wonderful – why not thousands of small gifts?’
“You want everyone to feel they’re a part of the solution for affordable housing,” she said, “and this is a way to do that.
“That’s the beauty of these homes,” Morgan added. “The average person can give. They can give a dollar, they can give $2. We want people to say, ‘Instead of that cup of coffee at McDonald’s today, I’m going to put $2 and I’m going to help build a house.’ I don’t know anywhere else in the world where you can get that for $2, $5, whatever they want to give. We just feel that the whole community coming together is going to be really powerful.”
The Habitat homes sell at the appraised value of the communities in which they’re built, she said, “so they don’t affect property rates in the neighborhood, which is something a lot of people worry about. We’ve built in every town in Wake County except Rolesville, so that appraised value is different in different parts of the county.”
Morgan said mortgage payments for Habitat recipients are capped at 30 percent of a family’s monthly income, which is what she said Habitat considers “affordable” housing. That’s especially groovy for a family such as Thein Oo and Lewh Paw’s. The monthly rent on their Carrboro townhouse has increased by $300 since 2011.
“A lot of people in the Triangle are paying 50 percent” of their incomes on housing, she said.
Yikes! No matter how big your pie is, that’s a huge slice.
Imagine being able to help a deserving family afford a house simply by forgoing a cup of coffee – or a slice of pie.
For anyone wishing to, as Morgan said, “give where you live,” here are addresses to which you can send a much-appreciated contribution: www.fayettevillenchabitat.org, www.orangehabitat.org/buildingtogether, www.durhamhabitat.org/regionalbuild and www.habitatwake.org.