The Habitats for Humanity of Orange and Durham County are each the recipients of million-dollar gifts after author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott — formerly married to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — recently donated $436 million in unrestricted funds to Habitat for Humanity International and 84 of the organization's U.S. affiliates.
Nearly $9.5 million of those funds will go to the Orange County and Durham County branches. The latter received $4.5 million in funds, while the Orange County affiliate received $5 million, according to a March 22 press release.
The donation follows a recent Orange County report regarding racial equity in housing. Both affiliates will use the money to continue the expansion of affordable housing in their respective counties, according to the press release published by Habitat for Humanity.
“With $4.5 million, that’s the largest single contribution we’ve ever received,” Jim Belanger, interim CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Durham said.
Belanger said the board for the Durham affiliate is in the process of strategic planning that will help determine how to distribute the funds in the upcoming fiscal year.
He said the organization should have a clearer idea of where the resources will be allocated in the next few months.
“We obviously want to be great stewards with this bode of confidence,” Belanger said.
Dianne Pledger, vice president of development and communications at Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, said that her branch is unsure of exactly how the donation will be used, but that the Orange County affiliate is looking at options for long-term future expansion. She added that the donation is not an end-all solution.
While the contribution won’t provide affordable housing to everybody, she said, it will help with different demands for the branch's services as well as community projects.
Combating housing disparities
The Orange County branch's recently published report, called "Promoting Black Homeownership," found that racial disparities in housing often prevent Black residents from attaining stable homeownership throughout the county.
According to the report, 44 percent of Black households own their homes, in comparison to 67 percent of white households. The 2008 housing crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have greatly affected disparities related to Black homeownership.
The report also highlighted a significant wealth gap between white and Black homeowners, citing one of the challenges in maintaining homeownership is that Black-owned homes also require more home repairs than their white counterparts.
Orange County Commissioner Anna Richards said that, as in the rest of the country, there has been a history of redlining in Orange County. Redlining refers to the the discriminatory refusal of loans based on race or ethnicity, most targeting Black Americans, in areas often deemed high financial risk.
Richards said one of the impacts of this practice included lowering home values in redlined areas for Black residents, which created a gap in terms of resale and appreciation.
She said that one of the initiatives that Orange County is taking to address disparities in home ownership is the Longtime Homeowner Assistance program, which was launched last October.
The program offers property tax assistance to residents who have lived in their homes for at least a decade. The issue of increased property taxes has disproportionately impacted Black neighborhoods, like Chapel Hill's Northside community.
Richards said she believes the program will be considered for extension at the commission's April 5 meeting.
Richards also attended the 2021 groundbreaking for Weavers Grove — a project by Habitat for Humanity of Orange County seeking to build a mixed-income development.
According to the press release, the donation will allow for more communities like Weavers Grove.
The Orange County affiliate included in their report that their role within the community "provides a platform and a duty in the racial equity movement" to contribute toward overcoming obstacles.
“Habitat for Humanity of Orange County recognizes that significant systemic work on the federal, state, and local level is needed to rectify past injustices and create solutions for a more just and equitable future,” the report reads.
Pledger said it is important for everyone in the community to be advocates for affordable housing and racial equity by being actively involved in conversations and education efforts.
“We need to educate ourselves, we need to talk to our state legislators, our local politicians and support those organizations that are really out here working for affordable housing and housing for all,” she said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.