Lots scarce for building by Habitat

Lack of land slows volunteers ready to build homes for needy

Local effort opens today

Donations in place

groundbreaking was planned for spring

February 07, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Habitat for Humanity of Carroll County has businesses willing to donate materials, volunteers willing to work in home construction and a growing list of working poor who would like to make the leap from renter to homeowner.

What it doesn't have are building lots, a must if the international faith-based organization's campaign to build affordable housing for Carroll's needy is to get off the ground.

"Materials and labor are not the major costs in this effort, and we have no problem finding people who want a chance to be homeowners," said Jack Garnish, president of the county group's 13-member board. "But in Carroll County, land is a significant factor. And, of all things that Habitat needs to be successful, land is vital."

Home sales in Carroll that average $180,128 and a decreasing number of building lots have given the organization a daunting task.

Habitat for Humanity will introduce its Building Homes, Building Hope initiative at 7:15 p.m. today in the Westminster High School auditorium. Organizers have invited about 2,000 business, community and church leaders and officials to the presentation that will open with a prayer and include videos of its construction program. Alvin Phillips, manager of Habitat's Central Atlantic Region, will be the speaker.

"We want to let everyone know what we are about and share how this program works," said Garnish. "Building a house is not a hidden art."

Habitat for Humanity, which counts former President Jimmy Carter among its members, began organizing a Carroll chapter a year ago, hoping to break ground on its first home this spring with volunteers working alongside the eventual homeowners.

In a December meeting with the county commissioners - a session that was taped for cable television but never aired - Habitat for Humanity asked for a waiver of various fees - including impact, inspection and landfill fees - and donations of land or abandoned housing.

Officials have taken no action on the request.

In an unusual move, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge had the tape withheld from airing because, she said, the group appeared to be promoting Christianity. Garnish said he understood Gouge's concerns and noted that the organization is open to all faiths and races.

"When your goal is good, it transcends politics," Garnish said. "Our goal in Carroll County is to provide everyone with a decent, basic house."

The homes go to "good, hard-working people who are normally not able to afford a home," he said.

Habitat volunteers help volunteers who are skilled in construction trades to build a modest home - typically a three-bedroom, 1 1/2 - bath rancher. The new owners put about 400 hours of sweat equity into the home and repay the cost of construction with an interest-free mortgage.

"We keep this as affordable as possible, using as much volunteer labor as possible," Garnish said.

Barring a donation of land, the group will continue its search for a parcel it can afford to buy. Its board had negotiated for a property in Taylorsville, but lost to a developer.

"We will find land, though," Garnish said. "It is just a question of time."

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