Wednesday, April 24, 2024

NC trend: Garth Brooks to celebrate Habitat for Humanity’s Carter effort

Habitat for Humanity has roots in Georgia, the home of founders Millard and Linda Fuller and Jimmy Carter, who brought international attention to the affordable-housing nonprofit. But Charlotte has played a pivotal role in its history, a tradition that will continue in October when hundreds of volunteers are expected to build 23 homes on the city’s west side.

Country music superstars Garth Brooks and wife Trisha Yearwood are slated to attend the build, bringing star power to the annual Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. The Carters began volunteering with Habitat in 1984, and in 1987 the former president and his wife joined crews that built 14 homes in Charlotte’s Optimist Park neighborhood.

A home being built in October will turn Brianna Sanford’s dream of homeownership into a reality. The 31-year-old substitute teacher and mother of two will trade her $1,873 apartment rent for a $600 mortgage on a three-bedroom home. She’ll go from spending more than 50% of her monthly income on rent to 30% for a home, including insurance and property taxes.

“It’s going to allow me to just breathe, and allow me to just let my hair down. Now it’s just living from check to check to check,” Sanford says. 

The sharp uptick in housing costs in Charlotte – the median home price was $385,000 in May — makes the Habitat work more relevant than ever. “There’s a growing need for Habitat as prices and costs increase and incomes are stagnant in comparison,” says Laura Belcher, who has been CEO of Habitat’s Charlotte region for nine years.

It’s the first Carter Work Project since the pandemic suspended the event three years ago.  Overall, Habitat is building 39 homes on the site of the former Plato Price School, which educated Black children during segregation from 1915 until 1966. “I believe we’re on historic, hallowed ground,” Belcher says. “This property has sat vacant for decades waiting for its higher purpose. Bringing home ownership to 39 local families and creating a neighborhood is its higher purpose.”

The neighborhood is a historically Black community near Charlotte Douglas International Airport. It’s in a part of the city with a homeownership rate of 26%, compared with Mecklenburg County’s average of 57%. The city of Charlotte donated the land to Habitat in 2018 and has since spent more than $1 million in infrastructure improvements there. Other $1 million-plus “cornerstone” contributors to the project include Ally Charitable Foundation, Merancas Foundation and Myers Park United Methodist Church. Lowe’s, Bank of America and Wells Fargo also have contributed at least $1 million each. Donations help Habitat get the project started as well as make the homes affordable.

Construction on the site’s first seven homes began in January, with families likely to move into those homes in August. The pace of construction will ramp up in October when 700 volunteers are expected to swing hammers, level floors and hang walls. Having a focused effort should enable 23 families to get into homes a year faster than Habitat’s regular pace in Charlotte, Belcher says.

During the project, Habitat expects to complete construction on eight homes and frame 15 others. The homes will be a mix of 1,100 to 1,200 square feet, with three to five bedrooms. Some will have a second story. 

The 39th U.S. president’s affiliation with Habitat began at a New York City project in 1984, three years after his presidency ended. Three years later, the couple came to Charlotte for the weeklong effort.

Carter, the oldest living U.S. president in history at 98, entered hospice care in February. Habitat plans to honor the Carters’ legacy during the project which also falls on Charlotte Habitat’s 40th anniversary. “All of these things have come together at the same time and it’s an amazing blessing,” says Belcher.

Charlotte’s mark on Habitat has included developer Paul Leonard, who served as the group’s interim CEO in 2004-05,
and author Frye Galliard, who wrote a book on its history, “If I Were a Carpenter.” 

More than 1,900 homes have been built in Charlotte since 1987, along with 8,000 across North Carolina. Only Florida recorded more Habitat builds last year than the Tar Heel State.

Yearwood and Brooks, who is the top-selling country artist of all time, have been lending their star power to Habitat for about a dozen years. “When they come and do this for a week, it helps to plant seeds with other people,” says Belcher. “This is how you put your beliefs into action. If you believe there is a housing challenge, this is how you can put your time and energy into good work.”

Sanford can’t wait to get into her home, which she’ll share with a daughter and son who are rising second- and third-graders, respectively. With finances not so tight, she wants to enroll them in dance and gymnastics lessons.The stability of staying in a home should help them at school, she says.

“I want them to have their best life.”

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