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Build a Block project to build 10 houses in 10 months for University employees

Construction workers work on the roof of a home that is a part of Habitat for Humanity’s Build a Block project. The project aims to aid University employees.
Construction workers work on the roof of a home that is a part of Habitat for Humanity’s Build a Block project. The project aims to aid University employees.

When the Orange County chapter of Habitat for Humanity was accepting applications for a new project in the neighborhood of Phoenix Place, organizers noticed something strange.

Fourteen of the first 18 families approved included University employees.

And organizers decided to take action.

On Sunday, the chapter kicked off Build a Block, a 10-month project designed to build 10 houses for University employees living in sub-standard housing. Construction began Sept. 11, and organizers aim to have all of the homes completed by May.

Chancellor Holden Thorp’s wife, Patti Thorp, coordinated the project’s fund-raising with the hope that the project would break down barriers within UNC by having administrators, students and employees working together.

“We tend to look afar, but these students have challenged us to look inward,” she said. “We need to take care of our own family.”

Organizers stressed that the magnitude of the project makes it the first of its kind among Habitat for Humanity chapters on college campuses.

The UNC chapter normally only builds one house per semester locally.

But this year, the chapter will build five houses each semester as a part of the project.

UNC housekeeper Pah Pyor, an employee set to receive a Build a Block home, said owning a house would have been impossible had he decided to stay in Myanmar.

“This house means so much to my family because it is our own and is stable,” Pyor said. “In an apartment, I had to move around or sign a lease every year.”

Leaders of the organization said they want this project to be a model for other schools to come together to recognize the need for affordable housing, whether it be for employees or members of the community, said Susan Bourner, the Orange County chapter’s liaison for the project.

“Build a Block raises the bar for not only those at UNC but other universities with Habitat chapters,” said Jonathan Reckford, chief executive officer of Habitat for Humanity International and a UNC alumnus.

Patti Thorp has had an integral role in organizing the patrons of Build a Block.

Though she has been involved with Habitat for Humanity since 1993, the Build a Block project marked the first time she has worked with the UNC chapter.

In November 2008, Chancellor Thorp raised the minimum yearly salary of full-time UNC employees to $25,000, but this is often not enough to own a home in Chapel Hill, Patti Thorp said.

Each Build a Block house costs $35,000, and a variety of UNC affiliates have committed to donate the money.

The Rams Club has teamed with UNC Athletics to build a house, and the Board of Trustees and Employee Forum have committed to fund another. UNC Health Care, Kenan-Flagler Business School and the Carolina Library Community will also fund houses.

UNC Greek Councils and UNC Habitat for Humanity will each donate $70,000 to build four houses.

The Residence Hall Association and the General Alumni Association also donated $10,000 each as general contributions.
The remaining funds will come from proceeds at the Rock the House concert at Memorial Hall Oct. 16, featuring some of the University’s a cappella groups.

“Despite its large scale, through Habitat, anything is possible,” Reckford said.

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“We’ve even had Duke and UNC athletes building houses together.”

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