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.

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.

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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.

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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!

 

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.

 

6 Month Check-in

It’s been (a little over) 6 months, so it seems like a good time for a recap.

When I was campaigning, I told you that I wanted Simpsonville to focus on three areas: economic development, community & culture, and One Simpsonville, United.

Let’s look at those more closely:

Economic Development:

As I’ve said before, in a city like Simpsonville, community development IS economic development, and as I said at the June Committee of the Whole Meeting, successful municipal community and economic development begins with elected officials making an organizational commitment to community and economic development. At that time, I made a motion to charge our City Administrator with creating a strategic plan for community and economic development in Simpsonville. The Committee moved that motion to the July 12th business meeting for consideration of Council, and Council approved us moving forward with such a plan. This is great news in light of the recently announced MASC economic development grants.

In support of community and economic development, several business and community leaders presented to Mayor Curtis and the City of Simpsonville a check for $1000.00 to illustrate their commitment to partnering with the City in a One Simpsonville effort to make economic development a priority. The City of Simpsonville will seek to grow the account by pursuing grants and in future budgeting efforts.

Community & Culture:

Museum Signs: In April, I was contacted by the Simpsonville Museum of Revolutionary War History (which is run completely by volunteers). They wanted to know if the city could help them purchase some signage to help let the public know their location and hours. I told them that I didn’t think the city could afford to do that given the great number of critical needs we were currently reviewing in our budget workshops. However, I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring together some citizens, businesses, and our government in a One Simpsonville effort to help increase access to this cultural service through signage. So I reached out to Jason Knudsen, our City Planner, to inquire about what kinds of signs would work for the Museum’s purpose. Then, I reached out to our community to ask for their help. Within just two days, we had collected enough money to purchase appropriate signage. Today, if you drive past the historic Simpsonville Elementary School building, you can see these portable sidewalk signs that indicate the location and operating hours of the museum.

Arts Center Feasibility Study: As of July 8th, the Arts Center Feasibility study is officially underway! Read the most recent progress update here. We first started talking about this back in March. Since then, the motion passed from Committee of the Whole to full Council, where it was approved. Mr. Dyrhaug and Mr. Knudsen have since pulled together the appropriate people to help complete the study, so we can determine once and for all whether or not it’s feasible to house an Arts Center in the historic Simpsonville Elementary School. Further, the group of people working together on that feasibility study include business owners, citizens, city staff, and non-profit representatives—and that’s what One Simpsonville is all about.

 Symphony (free!): We brought the Greenville Symphony Orchestra back to Simpsonville for the Independence Day Celebration at Heritage Park. And we were able to do it with free parking and free admission, increasing access to community and cultural programs and services. We were able to offer it free by embracing the One Simpsonville spirit of collaboration and partnership. The event was made possible by partnering with the following:

  • Greenville County,
  • Greenville Health Systems,
  • Greenville Technical College,
  • Lockheed Martin, and
  • Laurens Electric Cooperative.

 

One Simpsonville, United:

In addition to all the One Simpsonville examples above, we have a few more efforts that come to mind. What these efforts share is a concerted effort to invite citizens, businesses, and non-profits to participate in the processes and projects of the City. They also share a willingness to be open and responsive to the ideas, suggestions, and desire to help improve the community presented by members of our community.

Fire Safety House/Modern Woodmen of America Partnership: This is such a great example of the true One Simpsonville spirit. In this venture, we have truly united our city—its citizens, its businesses, and its government—working together for continuous improvement. Read more about how here.

 Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County: While the City was not an official partner in the recently completed build on Boyd Ave, several city leaders attended the wall-raising and the dedication ceremony and met with Habitat leaders to discuss how to create an effective, mutually beneficial relationship as we move forward. This is important because the Boyd Ave project did include partnerships with many private citizen volunteers, local businesses, and our local faith community. We need to continue to grow such relationships.

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We’ve strengthened our relationship with our Chamber of Commerce. Chamber leaders will be intimately involved in the formulation of the strategic plan for economic development. Recently, the Chamber’s Leadership Simpsonville group presented to us their planned projects for this year, which include the construction of an ADA-approved Sensory Playground and swings and signage for downtown. These projects will be a huge asset to our community. Council voted unanimously to support the projects. You can help donate to the Sensory Playground here. In another recent partnership, the Chamber and the City of Simpsonville worked together to collect, assemble, and distribute appreciation packages to the employees of the Simpsonville Police Department.

We did all of this while also passing a budget with no tax increase. And we worked with Public Works on a plan to privatize some of our sanitation services to save money and increase the quality of service to our citizens.

It’s been a busy year so far, and I’m not saying it’s been perfect, but I am saying this: we’re making progress. We’re moving in the right direction. And we’re going to continue on this path because that’s what’s best for Simpsonville.