Habitat for Humanity

As you know, at the last Business meeting, one of the items we voted on was Habitat for Humanity.  Here is a little more background on my vote:

Councilman Gooch originally brought this matter to our attention back in January of this year. At that time, some of us raised some questions regarding this project. I was one of them. Afterwards, one other city resident also approached me with some questions/concerns. Since then, based on those questions/concerns, I met with Mr. Free and other members of Habitat and the Golden Strip Coalition as well as with Habitat homeowners. I also reviewed the previous agreement, ordinance, and supplemental materials.

I’ve had the pleasure of getting more acquainted with Habitat over the last 6 months. I’ve met with Mr. Free to learn more about how the city and Habitat can work together. I attended the wall-raising and dedication ceremonies for the most recent build in Simpsonville and met with the Bouie family. I’ve seen first-hand how Habitat changes lives and communities. I intend to support those efforts to the best of my ability both as a citizen and a councilperson.

As I said the next time this project was brought up, I feel that my questions/concerns regarding the Woodside Mills Habitat project have been sufficiently answered. And that remains true, which is why I voted in favor of revisiting the agreement and moving forward with a new one.

One concern that has been raised by a councilmember is that the Woodside Mills site formerly served as a city dump and therefore it would be irresponsible for us to sell the land for the purpose of development by Habitat. I have found no evidence as to the truth of the claim that this served as a city dump. In fact, in the materials provided to this Council, we received a Phase I Environmental Assessment completed by K-Plus Environmental Services. That report specifically states “The property has been historically utilized as undeveloped woodland. No other past or current uses for the property were identified during this investigation. The report goes on to explain that this assessment “has revealed no evidence of recognized environmental conditions in connection with the property.”

Habitat, as is its practice, did its due diligence when we originally agreed to sell the land. Materials, thus, also include reports from the Army Corps of Engineers. There is information about the compaction of soil that would be required and has been brought up here. In addition, the original MOA contains clauses that clearly deal with some of the issues that have been raised. For example, it’s been suggested that somehow Habitat may be attempting to build homes that do not meet Federal, State, or city regulations or codes. Yet, the original agreement addressed that:

Section1, part c: “GCRA will monitor the completion of the subject property for compliance with all Federal, State, and City laws, regulations, ordinances, and other rules.”

Section 2, b: “Habitat will prepare a development plan for the subject property that includes a budget, specification for the construction of energy efficient Earthcraft housing which comply with all Federal, State, and City laws, rules, regulations and ordinances.

C: Provide with its partnership organizations and churches sufficient funds to develop, construct infrastructure and housing, and to maintain the subject property.

D: Oversee the development of the subject property to insure compliance with said laws, rules, regulations, and ordinances.

In Section 3, part a: The MOA provides that the City will assist with monitoring of the construction to insure compliances with City building codes.

And finally, in Section 4, part b: “All contracts, bidding, construction, and development activities shall comply with all Federal, State, and City laws, rules, regulations and ordinances.

Habitat is one of the number one home builders in this country. They do not do substandard work—nor would they be allowed to. They have to do exactly what any other builder would have to do.

Thus, the implied claim that future potential low income homeowners need us to protect them from Habitat doesn’t hold water. They don’t. What they need from us is to provide opportunity, to rebuild partnerships with organizations like Habitat.

An additional point was made that we shouldn’t enter into an agreement until such time as Habitat has built on other properties within the city it purchased. There are 3 lots near Simpsonville Elementary School (122 Boyd Avenue, 201 Boyd Avenue, and 203 Boyd Avenue) that Habitat for Humanity purchased from private citizens, not from the City of Simpsonville. Mr. Free indicated to me in a meeting earlier this year that they had only just closed on the last of those 3 properties, and stated that they planned to start building the homes there this Spring. And true to his word, they did. The first house was just completed. When I asked about the 2 additional lots, Habitat staff indicated they are preparing to begin those builds. First, they wanted to see about the feasibility of subdividing those 2 lots to make it possible to build 4 rather than just 2 homes there. My understanding is that was just recently settled (or will be soon), and they will now move forward with these properties. The progress on these builds shows their continued commitment to helping Simpsonville provide affordable, housing for low to moderate income families. And it certainly should not preclude us from moving forward on this other project.

The “Tebblewood mess” has also been raised as a point for not moving forward with this project. And certainly, that’s valid. The Tebblewood project, however, was not a Habitat project. It was a project of the Neighborhood Housing Corporation. And there’s a distinct difference in the way the two organizations operate. We cannot punish Habitat for the failings of another organization. Nor can we “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Yes, we had one bad experience with a low-to-moderate income housing development project. But we can’t just throw our hands up and effectively say, “Nope. No more. We’re not going to try to do anymore quality, affordable housing for low income families.”

Questions about water drainage and sewer were raised. I talked with Mr. Crawford about that. He said it shouldn’t be a problem to work in partnership with Habitat and the GCRA to get that work completed correctly and to ensure that work currently being done to alleviate the drainage problems in the Woodside Mills area would not be negatively impacted.

Another point raised has been “why new construction, why not rehabbing existing homes?” That is, in fact, something that Habitat can help with. Which is why rebuilding a mutually beneficial relationship with them is in the best interests of this city and its citizens. The message we’ve sent to Habitat in backing out of the original agreement and failing to revisit the idea is simple: we’re not interested in working with you. And that’s not the message we need to be sending. We need, instead to be asking, how can we work together? We’re ready, willing, and able. How can we make this happen? For its part Habitat has indicated a willingnesss to work with us on a new agreement. And has said its willing to include for any reasonable provisions we’d like. For example, the issue of “green space” has come up. When I asked Mr. Free about that, he indicated that’s something we could discuss further. Would we want some walking paths through the neighborhood, for example? These and many other details are things that can be worked out as Mr. Dyrhaug, Mr. Holmes work with Habitat to hammer out a new agreement. Thus, if councilmembers have those kinds of specific concerns, they should provide them to the City Administrator and City Attorney, so they can address them as they work on the agreement. This is about partnership—about mutually beneficial relationships—about making Simpsonville a better place for all its residents. And it’s time to start.