Kansas City Star (Kansas)
By: Bruce Siceloff
September 30, 2010
Wendy and Robby Haun had to sell their home near Cary, N.C., to make way for a state highway project, but the comfortable ranch house did not go to waste.
It went to Builders of Hope, a pioneering Raleigh, N.C., nonprofit that has found new life and new families for more than 60 discarded dwellings in the past four years.
Since 1999 the Hauns had lived in the house next door to Wendy's childhood home. The N.C. Turnpike Authority bought both houses for the 18-mile Triangle Expressway now under construction.
After they moved in November into a bigger place on a smaller lot a few miles away, the Hauns yearned to see their old house put to good use.
"We got frustrated trying to donate things from our old house to Habitat for Humanity," said Robby Haun, 34. "We opened the doors and told people to take anything out. They got ceiling fans and some solid wood doors. Somebody took the carpet. They got a toilet."
Builders of Hope is moved by that same recycling impulse, but the group works on a larger plane.
The organization stripped the Hauns' house - which was donated by the state - and reduced it to little more than studs and subfloor. The remainder was trucked to Fuquay-Varina and replanted in Consolidated Pines, a new subdivision that will be filled in the next couple of years with 18 affordable "green" homes for first-time buyers.
Over the summer, the house was radically overhauled with super-efficient HVAC system and windows, foam insulation and low-flow plumbing, Energy Star appliances, air-tight siding and roofing, and a big porch and front door where the side door used to be.
Builders of Hope sold the 1,350-square-foot house at cost to Shaun Cross, pastor of a small Angier, N.C., church, and his wife, Melissa Cross.
"We were doing fine, and our rent was cheap," said Melissa Cross, 27. "But when they started this new neighborhood in Fuquay-Varina, it was where we wanted to live. We really like the Builders of Hope philosophy and the beautiful homes they make, and there was the first-time homebuyer tax credit. A lot of things lined up for it."
Builders of Hope's radically rehabbed homes vary in size and sell for an average of $130,000, less than half the $270,000 average price of a new home in Wake County, N.C.
The prices are low for several reasons. The donated houses are free. Federal, state and local government grants cover all or part of the land costs. Other government subsidies and private grants augment the organization's revenue from home sales and from rent on dozens of green-rehabbed apartments.
Most homes are available only to families that earn no more than 80 percent of the median income. That means, in most cases, a Wake County family of four would qualify with a yearly income of $61,500 or less.
"And that's working America," said Nancy W. Murray of Raleigh, 43, a former advertising executive and real estate developer who founded Builders of Hope in 2006. "We're building for a group of people that has been locked out of the housing market for decades."
Murray stood in the cul-de-sac of State Street Village, a new Raleigh neighborhood that will be filled with 25 recycled and rehabbed homes by spring 2011. Eleven families have moved in during the past year, and five more donated houses are being rebuilt on new foundations.
She pointed to attractive homes with rain barrels and drought-tolerant lawns and talked about their new owners.
"The gal right there works for the DMV," Murray said. "The person there is a retired disabled gentleman. Next door is a teacher. Next door to that is a single mom that works for a pediatrician's office."
The houses come from all over. A handful are from Rolling Hills, a failed subdivision near downtown Durham, N.C.
A few were on lots inside Raleigh, where owners wanted to replace small houses with large ones. Instead of paying $20,000 or more to demolish and remove the old houses, the owners earned tax deductions for donating them to Builders of Hope.
Most of the houses are rotated sideways onto small lots, with porches built onto their new fronts.
"So they look like they all match and belong together, even though they're pulled from all over the Triangle," Murray said.
Builders of Hope has settled new families in redeveloped neighborhoods in Raleigh, Fuquay-Varina, Durham and Cary, with more homes in the pipeline for all four communities and in Charlotte, N.C.
And the group, now with 50 employees, is reaching beyond North Carolina. This month in New Orleans, Builders of Hope began moving and rehabbing 100 houses from a historic district that would have been bulldozed for a new hospital. More projects with a few hundred homes and apartments are planned in Dallas and Fort Worth.
The whole-house rehab approach elevates recycling to a larger scale. It sets Builders of Hope apart from other affordable housing organizations, such as Habitat for Humanity, that use materials salvaged from old homes when they build new ones.
"We're taking raw land and developing it and wholly comprising that community of recycled homes," Murray said. "Every lot here in State Street Village, all 25 lots, are going to be filled up with houses that were saved and rescued from somewhere else."
Those recycled houses will keep about 1.5 million pounds of construction debris out of landfills, Murray said.
After Wendy Haun's childhood home was stripped to the size of a double-wide mobile home, it sat for weeks until Builders of Hope had a spot for it. Last week, workers prepared a new foundation on Lot 2 at State Street Village, where the house will be installed and rebuilt for a new family.
"We're selling them before we get them out here," Murray said.
The organization matches buyers with houses and helps the buyers qualify for grants and other housing subsidies. The whole process, from receiving a donated home to closing the sale with its new owner, can take as little as four months.
Shaun and Melissa Cross paid $154,000 for their house in Fuquay-Varina.
Two weeks after they moved in, the Crosses and their two children opened the new-old home to its former owners.
Wendy and Robby Haun could hardly recognize the place. They struggled to get their bearings in a bamboo-floored living room that had been their white-linoleum kitchen.
Natalie, their 6-year-old daughter, still misses her old house. She whispered to her parents that this wasn't it.
"It looks great, but it looks nothing like it was," Robby Haun said. "The only thing I can recognize is the master bedroom and the two stairwells."
Just as hard to recognize are the Crosses' low utility bills.
The Raleigh-based nonprofit Advanced Energy, a Builders of Hope partner, pledges to reimburse them if they spend more than $45 a month to heat and cool the house.
"That's the part that got to me when I heard it," said Wendy Haun, 37. "Ours was never that cheap."
The Hauns shelled out $150 to $240 a month when they lived inside these walls, and the house was never comfortable in the worst of summer and winter. The Crosses had similar memories of their drafty old rental house.
"You'd be upstairs and it would be like 85 degrees, and downstairs it was 60," said Shaun Cross, 27.
"It will certainly help our budget now, to know we're not going to exceed $45 a month," Melissa said.
As the Hauns walked back to their car, Wendy took a last look at the reincarnation of a house she had known her whole life.
"I lived there for 10 years, and before that, I grew up beside that house," she said. "It makes me feel good that it wasn't just torn down and is being used for a good purpose."