Aiken County Habitat for Humanity will be launching a major new program soon, the organization’s executive director told the Rotary Club of Aiken's members on Monday.
Residents of Wicklow Heights, an area on Aiken’s Northside, will be the first to receive assistance with home repairs and other improvements through the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative.
“This is not a one-time deal; it’s a long-term plan,” said Yolanda Archuletta during the Rotary Club’s meeting at Newberry Hall. “Our goal is to invest there for the next 10 to 15 years. But in three years, we also want to pick yet another neighborhood that meets the same criteria, and we will go in and invest in that community as well. And then we’ll do it again and again and again for years to come.”
To make existing homes safer, healthier and more affordable to maintain in Wicklow Heights, Habitat for Humanity plans to spend an estimated $145,000 in fiscal year 2019-2020, $250,000 in fiscal year 2020-2021 and $335,000 in fiscal year 2021-2022.
There will be several sources of funding.
Owners of homes built by Habitat for Humanity pay mortgages, and that money "goes to make things like this happen," Archuletta said.
In addition, “We are going to be running and launching a campaign in October to raise money for this initiative and everything else that we have planned for the next five years,” Archuletta continued. “And then, the other part of this is that we will be pursuing grants. There are some aging-in-place funds available, for example, if we identify seniors in the households that need some work done.”
Habitat for Humanity also will be seeking various types of support from other local organizations.
“We’re not going to be the all-in-one package, but we are going to be the catalyst that gets other partners involved to make this successful,” Archuletta said.
The Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative is a program that other Habitat for Humanity affiliates have implemented successfully.
“It’s not a pie-in-the-sky idea,” Archuletta said. “This already exists. We’re replicating the model and adapting it to our community.”
According to information provided in Archuletta’s presentation, 246 Habitat affiliates nationwide were involved in neighborhood revitalization in fiscal year 2017. Those affiliates were able to serve 57% more families because they invested in the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative.
Archuletta described Wicklow Heights as an area bordered, roughly, by Hampton Avenue to the north, Vaucluse Road to the southwest and Perrin and Church streets to the east/southeast.
“It has taken us a year to pull this all together,” Archuletta said. “We have visited other communities in South Carolina that are doing this. And we have talked to people across the country who are doing this.”
Archuletta and her staff considered multiple areas when deciding what neighborhood to assist with Aiken County Habitat for Humanity’s first Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative effort.
The criteria for selection were based on the percentage of owner-occupied housing, median household income, willingness of residents to partner with Habitat for Humanity and other factors.
“We narrowed it down to three neighborhoods” Archuletta said, “and this (Wicklow Heights) is the one that we, as a staff, unanimously said, ‘We can work with this.’”
Wicklow Heights is in Aiken’s District 2, which City Councilwoman Lessie Price represents.
“She is on board, and she is going to bring all the people that she already knows that are part of the community to the table to get us started,” Archuletta said.
Some of the houses built by Habitat for Humanity are located in Wicklow Heights, and the nonprofit has a building in the neighborhood where construction supplies can be stored.
During the first two fiscal years of the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative in Wicklow Heights, Habitat for Humanity will implement a “Neighbor Up!” program that will involve making improvements to the property and exteriors of 30 to 40 homes.
Projects will include sanding, pressure washing, painting, mowing and the trimming of bushes, hedges and vines.
Members of each household must agree to complete five to 10 hours of sweat equity. There will be fees of $20 per household for lawn care and $30 to $50 for house care.
In addition, during the first two fiscal years, Habitat for Humanity plans to make critical repairs to eight to 10 homes. Household members each will provide 10 to 20 hours of sweat equity for those projects, which might, for example, involve fixing electrical and plumbing systems.
To help get the work done, Habitat for Humanity will offer other organizations and businesses the opportunity to participate in one-day team-building exercises in Wicklow Heights. The fee will be $50 per person.
The Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative won’t replace Habitat for Humanity’s effort to construct new houses for people in need.
“We will continue to build new homes in Aiken County for qualified applicants,” Archuletta said. “Our goal for new construction is five houses per year in five years.”
For more information about Habitat for Humanity and the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, call 803-642-9295 or visit habitataiken.org.