By Maria-Jose Subiria
Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, along with Wells Fargo, have teamed up to revitalize at least 70 homes in Jonesboro's Iron Gate community.
The Wells Fargo Housing Foundation recently gave the non-profit organization $175,000, for its Neighborhood Revitalization program, said Cara Welch, chief development officer for Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity.
This will allow the organization to begin the community project, she said. "This project is fundamentally about stabilizing neighborhoods," said Welch, in a prepared statement. "We are focused on helping to preserve affordable homeownership by helping existing homeowners maintain their homes, and keep their energy bills as low as possible."
Tax records are being studied to identify homeowners in the community, said Welch. Once homeowners are identified, and qualify for the program, volunteers will first, inspect the exterior of the homes for beautification, Welch added. After determining what is needed, volunteers may fix window panes, paint porches, and clean the landscapes, she said.
Volunteers, she said, will also ask each homeowner if work can be done inside the home for energy efficiency, and weatherization -- and if needed, will install various items, such as energy-efficient light bulbs, low-flow shower heads, a programmable thermostat, insulation, caulking around windows and doors, and repair windows.
On average, $2,500 will be invested in each home, she said. "If we spend less than our target, which is very feasible, we will hit more houses," she added. "The houses are generally 20, to 40 years old," said Welch. "We are dealing with major energy-efficiency issues."
The volunteers will knock on doors to inform homeowners of the program during the first week of January.
Brenda Rayburn, chief operation officer for Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, said homeowners, who qualify, must have an income that is less than 50 percent of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) area median income. For example, said Rayburn, a family of four should have an annual income of up to $43,000, and a family of two should have an annual income of up to $34,400.
Homeowners also are required to participate in a four-hour, preventive-maintenance training session, and a two-hour Wells Fargo "Hands on Banking" financial education training session, at Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, 9570 Tara Blvd., Jonesboro, said Rayburn.
"Just in time for the holidays, this is such an extraordinary gift for Clayton County, and the Iron Gate area," added Clayton County Chairman Eldrin Bell. "It will go a long way toward helping to revitalize our county, neighborhood by neighborhood."
Rayburn said Southern Crescent Habitat began working with Wells Fargo early in July.
Pamela Cross, vice president of senior community development for Wells Fargo, said the company decided to collaborate with Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity in this effort, because there is a serious need to assist existing homeowners in that area.
"We've seen the excellent work that Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity is doing in the community," said Cross. "Our team members are excited about rolling up their sleeves and helping to fix up properties selected by Habitat, making them clean, safe places for people to live."
According to Welch, the project will be overseen by Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity and Wells Fargo officials, and volunteers will come from Wells Fargo. If additional volunteers are needed, Southern Crescent Habitat will lend a helping hand.
As part of the agreement between Wells Fargo and Southern Crescent Habitat, the bank wanted its employees involved in the actual work on the houses. Welch said about 2,500 hours of work will be needed for the project.
She said The Avery, a neighborhood in the Iron Gate community, with homes built by Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, may suffer if the area's foreclosure problem is not alleviated.
"If we put a family in a home of a dying community, then, we are not really serving them," she said. "The best answer to serving families doesn't always mean creating new houses."
Welch said the community is an area in Clayton County with a high foreclosure rate, and if nothing is done, it can result in a loss of property values, a loss of tax revenue, a loss of registered voters, disinterest in the community, and an increase in crime.
The Clayton County Sheriff's Office is also helping to assist with this effort, she said. "We are providing targeted patrols to the area, and reaching out to the homeowners, in partnership with Habitat and other county departments," said Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough. "My involvement is both as a Habitat board member and as a community partner for law enforcement, under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP)."
Welch explained that NSP is a part of HUD. NSP grants are given to Clayton County, which then disperses them to its partners, including Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity.