As you walk past the East Athens street of New Hope Drive, near Hawthorne Avenue, the sounds of construction work can be heard from down the street. The constant buzzing of saws, the rhythmic beating of hammers on wood and the constant loud chatter of people building someone’s future.
The loud noises and chatter come from people who have the common goal of giving up some of their own time to instead help someone less fortunate.
This home, just like every other one that shares its street, was built by volunteers from the Athens Area Habitat for Humanity.
Why It’s Newsworthy: Organizations throughout the city have plans to deal with the current housing crisis to ensure that all citizens of Athens have proper housing.
Athens Habitat employs a workforce to lead groups of volunteers in the construction and renovation of these homes. The organization gathers volunteers from its large pool of college-aged adults, particularly those in Greek Life organizations, and other individuals who are simply looking to give back to the community.
They also gather support for their projects through other organizations, such as how local restaurants like Marti’s at Midday or Big City Bread Café provide food for working volunteers or other groups like the Baptist Collegiate Fellowship, which sends students on mission trips across the country to volunteer in their free time.
A Nation of Volunteers
Bruno Soto, 20, is a student from Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, and he is also a member of the Baptist Collegiate Fellowship. Soto, along with his classmates, is spending his spring break volunteering on the home renovation project with Athens Habitat as a way to do something “worthwhile” with his time.
Soto says he gets satisfaction from working as a team to complete parts of the house because he can step back and see something that he has helped build that will eventually make another person’s life more improved.
“It’s rewarding. It feels like you’re really contributing something, that you’re having a meaningful contribution to the team,” said Soto.
Habitat for Humanity is an international nonprofit organization that focuses on providing affordable and decent homes to families in need. The organization works with local communities across all 50 U.S. states, with branches in 70 other countries.
Habitat for Humanity employs the labor of the homeowner, its own staff members and community volunteers to build, renovate or repair homes. This has the goal of not only providing a place to live for a less fortunate family but also growing a stronger sense of community among those involved in the projects.
To create Habitat for Humanity’s vision, “a world where everyone has a decent place to live,” Habitat employs its mission of, “seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.”
This house along with all of the other homes on the street of New Hope Drive is a part of the Athens Area Habitat for Humanity’s Affordable Homes program.
The program is the group’s longest-running program that seeks to offer low-cost housing that has little maintenance to people who not only need it most, but who also are willing to put in the volunteer work themselves, or as Athens Habitat calls it “sweat equity.”
Josh Houben, 33, construction manager with Athens Habitat explains sweat equity.
“They have like 500 hours of what we call sweat equity, where a homeowner or potential homeowner is actually working on their own house and volunteering them and their family can volunteer in the Habitat ReStore or on the construction site,” he said. “So they have a hand in building their own home.”
The program seeks to offer homes at around $80,000 with zero-interest mortgages making the monthly home payments around $300, plus taxes and insurance. The program targets homeowners that are not in the financial situation to be able to afford a decent-sized place to live, but they must still have the means to pay the monthly payments.
This not only offers a new start to families who are in need, by giving them a chance to use the home as a way to accumulate wealth and to have a safe space for loved ones. It also brings the community together to have a common goal of improving the city as a whole, while also boosting the economy with increases in property value along with an increase in the tax base.
Housing Crisis in Athens
The street is located on the eastern side of the city of Athens near the Historic District, and it is a historically low-income area of the city with a median household income of $20,000 according to The Opportunity Atlas.
The Atlas is a collaboration of minds from Harvard and Brown Universities, and the United States Census Bureau that maps data collected on tax returns and American Community Surveys from the 2000 and 2010 censuses to form the different variables of the map such as income.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s website explains, “We estimate children’s outcomes in adulthood such as earnings distributions and incarceration rates by parental income, race, and gender,” and that the outcomes allow users to trace the roots of problems, like poverty, to specific areas.
The city of Athens is battling an affordable housing crisis, with governmental and non-governmental organizations creating plans to combat this epidemic.
According to an article from The Red & Black, the Athens Housing Authority has planned to build and renovate around 700-800 homes in the north downtown Athens area. The article also states that the Athens Area Homeless Shelter is attempting to work with landlords on the tenants’ behalf, finding them places to stay or in some cases paying a tenant’s rent for a year.
With rising home and rent prices throughout the city, and plans to build more housing needing to take years to be completed, many Athens families currently struggle with poorly maintained living conditions or are in severe danger of becoming homeless.
Although the housing crisis has impacted many families throughout the city, many organizations and individuals are dedicating their time to finding solutions for many of these systemic issues.
A New Athens Home
Shaterica Moody, 44, a phlebotomist born in Athens, is the future homeowner of the soon-to-be-completed final house on the street of New Hope Drive.
“The completion of this home means a lot to me because my kids will finally be able to have their own separate rooms again,” said Moody. “Plus it’ll be affordable where I won’t have to struggle so much to pay rent as it keeps increasing each year.”
Moody said what makes her happy about the completion of the home is that she will be the one who owns the property, not someone else.
Following the full completion of the street of New Hope Drive, Athens Area Habitat for Humanity seeks to begin a new Affordable Homes project. The name of the new project will be called the Micah’s Creek neighborhood, located in East Athens near the Firefly Trail.
According to Houben, the organization has secured around 11 acres of land to which they plan to add 62 homes to the Athens area. The focus for choosing homeowners in this neighborhood will be on people who are veterans, homeless college students, artists and for families with students at Gaines School Elementary.
This project will be one of the biggest projects that Athens Area Habitat for Humanity has ever undertaken before. According to Houben, the project will not only be a huge difference maker in the lives of the families that move into these homes, but it will greatly impact the school district and the surrounding areas.
Nick Ladd is a senior majoring in journalism with a focus in photography in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.
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