The Seattle Times
By: Bruce Siceloff
October 18, 2010
Nonprofit has found new life and new families for more than 60 discarded dwellings in the past four years.
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 nonprofit that has found new life and new families for more than 60 discarded dwellings in the past four years.
After they moved late last fall 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."
Builders of Hope is moved by that same recycling impulse, but the group works on a larger plane.
The organization stripped the Hauns' house and reduced it to little more than studs and subfloor. The remainder was trucked to Fuquay-Varina and replanted in a new subdivision destined to have 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, airtight 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 church, and his wife, Melissa.
"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.
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 earning no more than 80 percent of the median income. A 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 a Raleigh neighborhood expected to have 25 recycled homes by spring 2011. Eleven families have moved in, 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 person there is a retired disabled gentleman," Murray said. "Next door is a teacher. Next door to that is a single mom (who) works for a pediatrician's office."
The houses come from all over the metro area. 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 put sideways onto small lots, with porches built onto their new fronts "so they look like they all match and belong together," 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.
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. More projects 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 salvaged materials when they build new homes.
The recycled houses will keep about 1.5 million pounds of construction debris out of landfills, Murray said.
"We're selling them before we get them" transplanted, Murray said. The organization matches houses with buyers, helping them to 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. 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 struggled to get their bearing in a bamboo-floored living room that had been their white-linoleum kitchen. Their 6-year-old daughter whispered to her parents that this wasn't their house.
"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 on heating and cooling.
The Hauns' bills were "never that cheap," said Wendy Haun, 37. They shelled out $150 to $240 a month.
As the Hauns walked back to their car, Wendy took a last look at the reincarnated house. "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."
E-mail Raleigh News and Observer reporter Bruce Siceloff at firstname.lastname@example.org.