By Amy-Willard Cross
This is Nancy Welsh’s math of urban renewal: She has subtracted 11 million pounds of construction debris from landfills. She has added 175 homes and 250 rental units to the affordable housing stock. She has employed some 200 at-risk youth or ex-offenders who’d have a hard time finding jobs.
Welsh is the founder of Builders of Hope, created in 2006 to solve Raleigh’s housing problem. The non-profit recycles houses slated for demolition, making it possible for lower-income families to step into homeownership. It also develops affordable rental housing in multi-unit buildings and is building what it calls Heros Village to help solve the housing and homelessness of returning vets. Even better, Builders of Hope retrofits these structures with the latest in environmental and sustainable technologies.
Decrying what she sees as a tear-down epidemic, Welsh says, “Single family housing is one of this country’s greatest assets. Environmentally it’s one of the worst things to just tear them all down. What we do is the best way to get people back into affordable houses.” Builders of Hope wants to help the millions of Americans who have been foreclosed or affected by the housing crisis. Fluently, Welsh riffs statistics: 70% of the workforce makes below the median income, and approximately 250,000 houses are destroyed every year.
We have more people in the country without permanent housing [than ever before] in our history and we have more abandoned houses than any time in our history. This is a way that we can start rebuilding America — starting with rebuilding these houses.” And she’s doing it one derelict house at a time. So far, Builders of Hope has recycled properties in New Orleans, North Carolina, Dallas, and Fort Worth. The idea is spreading; municipalities such as Detroit and Cleveland have asked for advice on dealing with their boarded up vacant homes. The real estate crash has discounted the housing stock, making it affordable so BOH can keep prices low. Still, greed persists. As she says, “Everyone wants to make millions of dollars.
A former ad and Coca-Cola executive, Welsh started Builders of Hope after her father’s death. This mother of four was inspired after learning through local volunteer work that local firefighters, nurses, teachers and police couldn’t afford to live in the cities whose taxpayers they protected and nurtured.
With her inheritance, Welsh bought land, created 24 lots, acquired houses slated for demolition, moved them to the site and renovated them. “I learned from the ground up, I own my own Bobcat, which meant the kids wanted their birthday parties on the jobsites.” Indeed, her children love what she does and have volunteered for the organization.
After creating the first neighborhood, Barrington Village, Builders of Hope has created many more, often getting municipal or federal funding to do the retrofits. Houses are sold below market rates to encourage mixed income housing. BOH keeps costs low, managing to renovate derelict homes for $79 to $100 per square foot — and keeping 65% of the original structure. The City of New Orleans called on the group to rescue 74 houses from the site of a future hospital, and the homes were placed in neighborhoods ruined by Katrina. Builders of Hope’s work has been recognized with an award from the National Housing Conference for “Pioneering Housing Strategies.”
As well as housing the unhoused, Builders of Hope does more good – environmentally and socially.
It brings environmental building to the masses with “Extreme Green Rehabilitation,” a patent-pending construction process. When restoring derelict housing, the non-profit uses green-building strategies, including adding insulation and using passive solar orientation, energy efficiency and low VOC paint. Hardwood floors are restored. Not only does this improve indoor air quality, but houses that have undergone “Extreme Green Rehabilitation” produce half as much carbon dioxide per unit as traditional new construction, according to a study by North Carolina State University.
Builders of Hope also runs Hope Works, a job-mentorship program for hard-to employ men and women – ex-offenders, former addicts and the like. The participants work on construction sites and learn in-demand construction skills. One of the participants has worked with the group ever since its founding.
Soon, Welsh’s group will be doing urban renewal on a much bigger scale; last week it announced the Upcycle Program which will turn foreclosed and vacant property into affordable rental housing nationwide – all of which will be made possible with a $100 million private investment. It will be working in partnership with national nonprofit the National Community Stabilization Trust.
Builders of Hope creates entire new neighborhoods and helps create community with homeowner associations and covenants, as well as training people how to hold office in an associations. Then of course, each neighborhood kicks off with a picnic to join the residents of mixed race and ages; says, Welsh, “It’s cool to see everyone come together.” The community building continues: the first resident of Barrington Village now sits on the board of Builders of Hope.
In places where there had been prostitution and violence Welsh says, “By the time we’re finished, it will get down to a few incidents per quarter. It’s amazing how giving people safe healthy homes will give them something to protect. It changes their lives and the whole community.”
This interview by Amy-Willard Cross was cross-posted from http://vitaminw.co/
images: Builders of Hope