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Habitat luncheon kicks off new project in historic Northside neighborhood

Habitat for Humanity of Orange County hosted the Henry Clark Society Luncheon Friday at the Carolina Inn to recognize donors and to celebrate the kick-off of Habitat’s work in the Northside neighborhood in Chapel Hill.

Habitat will build seven homes and complete repairs in the Northside community during 2016 and 2017.

This is possible because of a $3 million, no-interest loan obtained a year ago.

“Northside is one of the oldest African American communities in Chapel Hill," Kathy Atwater, Habitat for Humanity of Orange County board member, said. "In times past, we’ve had situations where homes were being lost because of an inability to keep up the homes, families passing on and homes being sold."

Many families and UNC employees live in the Northside neighborhood. Developers have been buying out homes and driving up housing prices in recent years.

“Because they were being sold at rates that the average medium income could not afford, they were being sold to developers who transferred the homes into student rentals, which brought influx of student rentals into the neighborhood," Atwater said.

Habitat, in collaboration with the town of Chapel Hill, plans to use the money to preserve historic Northside. 

“This allows us to be able to buy property and hold it for families so that more families can come into the neighborhood," Atwater said. "The community itself is a family-oriented community and we just want to keep it that way."

North Carolina Senator Valerie Foushee grew up in the Northside community and spoke on how the community has impacted her. 

“It is often said that we are a product of our environment,” Foushee said. “I can tell you when I look back on my life that the Northside and Pinehurst communities helped shape the woman you see here today.”

As a former resident of Northside, Foushee said she wants to preserve the historic and culturally diverse nature of the community.

Friday's luncheon celebrated Habitat’s success in Orange County and their partnership with UNC.

“The remarkable thing about Habitat is that we know that stable housing produces better options for people, especially for children, in life,” Chapel Hill Mayor Pam Hemminger said. “That stability of knowing that you’re in a safe place that’s yours, that no one is going to be asking you to leave or moving your rent or denying section 8 vouchers anymore, that you have your place to be and you’re in a community — that is crucial to the success of a child and families in general.” 

When a family applies and receives a home through Habitat, the family helps build it. Habitat calls this sweat equity.

While fundraising pays for the materials for the house, many more expenses are incurred such as the costs of infrastructure and permitting. Money and grants from partners such as Chapel Hill help cover these costs.

Families pay a 30-year interest-free mortgage that funds the next wave of houses.

“It’s a very sustainable model with new monies constantly coming in, and it helps fund the staff and the operations as well,” Hemminger said. “We actually have a full-time work crew. There’s some jobs that you can’t have volunteers do when you’re building a house, electricity being one of them.”

Hemminger said student involvement in Habitat is a cornerstone of the program in Orange County.

“Not only do the students volunteer, it raises awareness at an early age,” Hemminger said.

She said affordable housing is a big issue in Orange County. 

Habitat aims to provide solutions for as many families as they are able to.

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“I think affordable housing is really hard for a lot of people to understand if they haven’t been involved in a project like this. It’s like ‘why can’t they just save up enough money to buy a house?’ But when you actually have hands-on experience, you learn better,” Hemminger said.

Co-Chairperson of UNC Habitat for Humanity Alex Mitchell spoke on his involvement with the organization. 

“Two intersecting themes were always extremely important to me: community and family," Mitchell said. "That’s why I gravitated toward Habitat for Humanity."

Chancellor Carol Folt also spoke on UNC and the town's collaboration with Habitat.

“This is truly a partnership that includes the University, but transcends into the community,” Folt said.