The Habitat for Humanity of Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro recently purchased two blocks of land and surrounding properties for $110,000. The organization’s goal is to build seven homes and two rehabilitation centers within the next two years. This construction project aims to uphold the nonprofit affiliate’s mission of bringing people together “to build homes, communities and hope.”
It took the SAW Habitat about a year of negotiation with multiple parties, including a separate private owner, the Staunton Redevelopment and Housing Authority and long-time developer Stu Armstrong to arrange the final price of the land. As someone with an extensive history in neighborhood revitalization, Armstrong’s focus is to construct homes with appealing curb appeal and landscaping to attract middle-class buyers to create a mixed-income neighborhood.
“It’s not just helping a Habitat family; it’s also helping the neighborhood around it,” Armstrong said. “It’s also making the neighborhood attractive to create future economic investment versus disinvestment.”
On Aug. 24, the organization celebrated the purchase with a neighborhood barbecue on Heydenreich Street — the location of the land acquired — that allowed members of the community to ask questions and provide their own input on the construction. About 50 to 60 people turned out, and they mainly spoke up about what to turn any extra greenspace into. Executive Director of the Local Affiliate Lance Barton emphasized the importance of the neighbors’ perspectives when it comes to the construction process.
“To me, it’s just simply disrespectful not to involve the people who live here in the entire process,” Barton said. “It’s not always easy, but it’s always absolutely necessary.”
Barton said that when buying property, a certain percentage of it has to remain unbuilt, so the organization will turn extra greenspace into gardens, pocket parks — a small park usually located in an urban area — and historical markers and sculptures that reflect important pieces of the area’s past for the community to enjoy. Neighborhood resident Willie Jones has lived in a Habitat home for 13 years and is looking forward to the positive impact that the new homes may have on the community.
“It’s a good way to provide homes for people who can’t necessarily afford one through a regular mortgage,” Jones said. “Renting a home and buying a home are two different feelings. It gives a person the inner respect of owning a home.”
Barton has been executive director of the SAW Habitat for three years following 15 years of working in the food bank industry. He felt called to food pantry service after he benefited from the kindness of a food bank while experiencing a heroin addiction 20 years ago. Barton said the organizations he’s worked with taught him that the most important thing someone can do is treat people with respect.
“I love and will always be indebted to the mission of food banks because of my personal experience of having gone to a food bank to get food,” Barton said. “But, after 15 years, I was really looking for something that changed lives, that had generational changes, and that’s what Habitat for Humanity really provides.”
The SAW Habitat’s goal is to go from building three houses a year to five in addition to providing critical home repair to those in the area. The organization plans on building the houses with the future in mind, so fewer repairs will be needed down the road for upcoming homeowners. Construction is scheduled to begin this month.
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