Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week

It’s Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. This graphic shows just a few facts from the recent Greenville County Affordable Housing study. Residents really shouldn’t spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Unfortunately, many do. And they’re living on the edge, forced to choose between basic necessities like purchasing food, paying rent, or going to the doctor. The median rent in SC has increased significantly, and wages for many jobs have not increased at comparable rates. Municipalities across the state are beginning to address this issue in a number of ways. Simpsonville must do the same. I look forward to working on that over my next term. You can read more about #affordablehousing on the #Jenn4Ward3 blog here: http://ow.ly/Jpc530pUa9D

Throwback Thursday: Women Build 2017

Note this is part of a series of posts on affordable housing. Read all posts on he opic here: http://ow.ly/dbBQ30pTa4f.

#ThrowbackThursday: Mayor Janice Curtis, Councilman Lou Hutchings, and I took part in the wall-raising for the Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County 2017 Women Build in the Boyd-Morton neighborhood here in Ward 3.

In total, nearly a third or 1.8 million of all South Carolina residents don’t have money for food, clothing, transportation or other basics after they pay to keep a roof over their heads, according to findings in the South Carolina Housing Needs Assessment released in August.

When housing costs cut into basic needs like this, it’s known as “shelter poverty.” And according to the study, it costs SC $8.4 billion that is borne by public assistance, private charity or personal deprivation.” This is a cost largely borne by tax payers.

While our City is certainly thriving we are not immune to the affordable housing crisis. Habitat is and will continue to be one tool in Simpsonville’s #affordablehousing toolkit.

PS: not too late to support this year’s #WomenBuild! Ask me how. 🙂

Throwback: Beard Family Welcome

#ThrowbackThursday: Welcoming the Beard Family to Ward 3! At the last meeting, Council resumed its discussion of affordable housing. We received an update from Monroe Free of Habitat for Humanity regarding the Woodside Mills project. They are finalizing infrastructure now, and they expect to break ground on the first of 13 houses next year. By 2021, the neighborhood should be complete. We also heard from Danielle Beard, one of the Habitat homeowners in the Boyd/Morton neighborhood. She gave compelling testimony about the need for affordable housing and the positive impact this opportunity to live in Simpsonville has had on her life and the lives of her children.

Just this week I heard from two lifelong residents of Simpsonville who have had to move outside the city because they can no longer afford to live here. One commented that “there’s no place for single mothers in Simpsonville.” Think about that a minute: they’ve called Simpsonville #SimplyHome since their own childhoods, and now they cannot raise their own children here. Is that who we are? Who we want to be? Or do we want to be a city made stronger by its diversity, a city who welcomes people from all walks of life, a city where people can “age in place,” spend their lives, raise their children and grandchildren?
Personally, I think we need and want to be the latter. And that’s why we’ve spent so much time discussing affordable housing. It’s why we support Habitat for Humanity. And why we’re committed, as a Council, to developing an Affordable Housing Toolkit with diverse options for creating affordable housing opportunities in Simpsonville. There are many solutions to the problem. We just can’t ignore that there is a problem.

Read more about Affordable Housing on the #Jenn4Ward3 blog here: https://bit.ly/2WYggox

Throwback Thursday: My First House

#ThrowbackThursday: This is my first house, which I was able to purchase via a South Carolina State Housing Authority income-based mortgage program for public service employees making under a certain yearly salary. Last Tuesday night, Council heard a presentation by John Castile of the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority on the issue of affordable housing. Many people associate “affordable housing” or “income-based” housing with “Section 8” or “Public Housing.” But that’s a misconception. Creating affordable housing opportunities can be done in a variety of ways, including through programs like the one I used. Read more about affordable housing and why I look forward to working with the County, GCRA, our City Administrator, and my fellow councilmembers to build our “Affordable Housing Toolbox” with a variety of options and to ensure our 2020 Action Plan and our new Comprehensive Plan support efforts to create affordable housing opportunities that are the right fit for Simpsonville here: http://ow.ly/R6l750wLRZ6.

house954468708518592606.png

Habitat Women Build 2019

This week I had an early morning meeting with Noel Pagan of Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County about this year’s Women Build. I’m proud to support and excited to participate in this year’s build because I believe that empowered women empower women. This year we’re looking to involve more women business owners, so if you are one or know one, let me know! You don’t have to be a business owner…or even a woman to participate, though.  The Build itself begin in November.  Right now, we’re working on raising awareness and fundraising.

If you are interested in joining me for Women Build, I have a team! I’m calling it “Simply Empowered.” The team name comes from my belief that empowered women empower women…and from Simpsonville’s new #SimplyHome branding! You can join my team, or you can also create your own team!  Here’s how to sign up to help:

 Here is a link to register. Choose to register as an individual or as a team or as a teammate (again, my team is Simply Empowered).

register hab

If you register a team, you could recruit your own members (i.e. employees, friends or family). But I am happy to have you on my team!

Greenville’s Women Build project recruits, trains and empowers women to make a difference in their community by building simple, decent, healthy, affordable homes. Women Build volunteers from all walks of life come together to build stronger, safer communities.

Trivia Tuesday: Habitat for Humanity in Simpsonville

How about a little #TriviaTuesday? Do you know: how many Habitat houses have we built in Simpsonville since I took office in 2016? The answer is 5. All 5 are in the Boyd/Morton section of Ward 3. We will also soon break ground on a neighborhood in Woodside Mills with 13 homes!

This is Mayor Janice Curtis and me presenting the first new Habitat homeowner a housewarming gift on July 25, 2016. In 2015, I promised to work towards “One SImpsonville,” where local government, businesses, residents, and non-profits would work together for the betterment of our city. In our first year in office, we worked to reestablish a mutually beneficial relationship between the City of Simpsonville and Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County. Promises made, promises kept.

Not only is providing quality, affordable housing in our community important, but also relationships with non-profit organizations like Habitat are a key to our city’s success. And we’ve seen the fruits of our efforts in a number of ways (for example, we’re teaming up with PalmettoPride for the 3rd year in a row for Clean Up Day!). This Council continues to work on building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships.

You can read more about my support for Habitat here: https://bit.ly/2OLWNRZ.
Sign up to join us for Clean Up Day here: https://bit.ly/2CQ7pfL.

habitat 2

Habitat for Humanity: A Helping Hand in Our Community

Drugs, a nearby murder, and mold the management refused to address: these are some of the complaints about my apartment I made to a friend before she said, “Why don’t you buy a house?” I laughed: “Houses are expensive!”

I’d never really given much thought to owning a home. I didn’t see myself as a homeowner. I was a renter—had been my whole life. I didn’t know the first thing about mortgages or credit scores. My friend, who worked at a bank, taught me. She went over my budget with me, showed me how to better manage my money. She helped me get my finances in order to pay down debt and improve my credit score. Even so, I didn’t really expect to buy a house. I was looking for another affordable, but hopefully safer, apartment.

One day I got a call: my friend’s colleague had found an income-based mortgage program that was perfect for people like me. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. She walked me through the process of getting approved and talked to me about the importance of buying within my means and planning for the future. Other people stepped up along the way to help me through the process of buying my first home: a realtor, a house-hunting friend, a lawyer to explain the closing process (an incredibly frightening process in itself!). Before I knew it, I was standing in my own house, proud of reaching this milestone.

But I didn’t do it alone. I’m a firm believer that no one does. And I’m not just talking about home buying. I’m talking about life. We don’t do it alone. We don’t succeed alone. We will all have times in life when we want to change our circumstances, but need a helping hand to do so.

That’s something Habitat for Humanity understands too. It’s why Habitat is about more than building homes. It’s about providing the education, experience, and support network for success. Habitat prepares families for the future by providing an intentional educational and financial preparation process. Families put in at least 200 hours of “sweat equity,” investing in their futures through the sweat of their own labor. They learn about mortgages, insurance, maintenance, safety, and more.

I watched others lose their homes in the mortgage crisis. But I didn’t. Because I’d been prepared. Habitat’s preparation pays off similarly as evidenced by a foreclosure rate at less than 0.4%. Owning my own home was more than just a milestone; it was a stepping stone to future success. I’m no longer living paycheck to paycheck, no longer living in debt. I haven’t been for a long time. I no longer worry how I’m going to pay for unexpected bills. I have money saved for emergencies. That’s more than an accomplishment. It’s freedom. It’s life-changing.

That’s the difference Habitat makes by giving people the tools to build stability, strength, and self-reliance, so they can break the cycle of generational poverty and create a better future for themselves and for their families. Ultimately, that’s how Habitat helps build stronger, more stable families and communities. And when our families thrive, our city thrives.

There are many ways to help Habitat build up our communities. Learn more about how to donate or volunteer at http://www.habitatgreenville.org, and let’s be each other’s helping hand this holiday season.

Welcome, Beard Family, to Simpsonville’s Ward 3!

The last Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County build in the Boyd/Morton neighborhood (Hill St.) is complete and was dedicated today. Welcome the Beard family to Ward 3 of the City of Simpsonville! Rhonda Mauldin is the store manager of the Food Lion, and earlier this year she asked me about getting involved with one of the Habitat builds. She saw a natural alignment between Food Lion Feeds, the grocery store’s charitable work to end hunger in the community, and the work to provide affordable housing in our community. I connected Rhonda with Noel Pagan at Habitat, and voila! Thanks to Rhonda and Food Lion, the Beard family has their new kitchen stocked with food! How awesome is this?! This build was sponsored by the Golden Strip Coalition, which includes several local area churches. So many people worked together to make this happen. It’s a true #OneSimpsonville success! #StrongSCcities

In 2015, I promised to work towards “One Simpsonville,” where local government, businesses, residents, and non-profits would work together for the betterment of our city. In our first year in office, we worked to reestablish a mutually beneficial relationship between the City of Simpsonville and Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County. Promises made, promises kept.

Photos courtesy of Rhonda Mauldin via Facebook.

Experiences Help Make Us Who We Are

Once upon a time, I spent 3 months living in a car because I had nowhere else to go. Yes, I had a job. I worked as a waitress every single day (my job for about ten years). And yet, my car became my home. Such is life sometimes. But I am grateful for that experience because it taught or retaught me some valuable life lessons. Here are three:

1. It re-emphasized for me the importance of empathy, which is really the most fundamental “people skill.” The ability to understand and share the feelings of another person is critical to public service. You have to be able to look at things from other people’s perspectives. You have to imagine yourself in their shoes—imagine how you would think, act, or feel if you shared their experience, knowledge, and beliefs. I have found this to be necessary (although often difficult) in my role in education—whether as an instructor or as an administrator. And the same holds true for life in public office. 

2. It also re-emphasized for me the value of interdependence. We can’t do it all alone. Sometimes we need the help of other people, and we need to know that it’s ok to ask for help. We need to be aware of what resources are available to us and not be afraid to use them. In both my full-time job and in my job as a Council member, that’s incredibly important. We are stronger together: that’s why we have a Council with 7 people. The talents, skills, and abilities of each member contribute to the success of the body as a whole. Neither I nor any other Council member can do it alone. You can have all sorts of plans when you come into office, but none of those will ever get accomplished without the support of at least a majority of Council. That requires a great deal of working together. Additionally, so much of what we do at the municipal level is tied in with the County, the State, and even the Federal Government that strong relationships with people at those levels is important. And, really, if we want to achieve great things, we have to be willing to work not just with each other and those other government bodies but also with our city employees, our local businesses, local non-profits and community groups, and the citizens. It takes all of us working together to make Simpsonville great. That’s what the One Simpsonville vision was all about. 

3. During those 3 months, I was robbed 3 times, once at gunpoint. I might have lost my faith in humanity. But the kindness of strangers really helped me pull through. Sometimes, it was just a kind word or smile. At other times, it was people allowing me to crash on a couch or borrow their shower. This solidified for me the importance of giving back to your community. And it’s probably one of the reasons why I have been in public service for my entire career, and one of the reasons I engage in regular community service, such as the time I spent as a volunteer Guardian ad Litem for children in foster care or the upcoming Women Build project for Habitat in Simpsonville (more on that soon!). 

I went on to finish college and graduate school, and I worked the entire time: as a waitress, as a bank teller, as a tutor, as an administrative assistant, and in a warehouse assembling actuators and packaging them to ship. I never found myself without a real roof over my head again, but I’ll never forget what I learned from that short time I did.

Great Things Are Happening in Ward 3!

Great things are happening in Simpsonville!  And especially in Ward 3.

We have two new Habitat for Humanity builds on Boyd Avenue (thanks to Publix for getting the funds to get these rolling!).  Walls are up on one as of last week.  This will be the new home of the Waldrop family.

img_20170221_155049210

This is particularly exciting because they are the first family to be moving into a new home since Habitat kicked off the Veterans Build initiative.  Tony Waldrop served in the Marine Corps during Operation Enduring Freedom.  He and his wife Rachel are raising three great kids, and they’re both in school full time.

The second house on Boyd Avenue will become the home of Nicole Youngblood and her one-year-old son Kingston.  Construction on her home will begin in about a month.

img_20170221_155100285

Habitat builds generally take about 3 months, and the paperwork and details after that take another month.  So in mid-to-late summer, we’ll be welcoming two new families to Boyd Avenue. Read about our last build (for the Bouie family, also on Boyd Ave.)  and our future plans with Habitat for Humanity here.

Elsewhere in Ward 3 this summer, we should begin to actually see progress on the Woodside Mills sidewalk project.  This one has been in the works for a while (with a lot of behind-the-scenes action), and we’re finishing up the details with DHEC and the engineer.  If everything stays on track, we’ll see construction start as early as June.

Keep an eye open for all these good things going on in Ward 3 and across Simpsonville over the next several months.

PS: we got the previously discussed street signs up at the corner of Boyd and Morton!