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VOL. 124 | NO. 97 | Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Work Begins on Habitat’s Green Neighborhood

By Eric Smith

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AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Homes like this one could rise by year’s end at Trinity Park, the $3.1 million, 38-home development by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis. The project will rise on 8.6 acres in Oakhaven at the intersection of Winchester and Tchulahoma roads near the airport. -- PHOTO COURTESY OF HABITAT FOR HUMANITY

Trinity Park, the first all-green neighborhood being developed by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis, reached an important milestone last week when crews began site work on the project.

After years of fundraising – and those efforts are still under way – the $3.1 million, 38-home neighborhood will begin taking form on 8.6 acres at Winchester and Tchulahoma roads in Oakhaven near Memphis International Airport.

“We literally broke ground (Thursday). That’s not just figuratively speaking,” said Dwayne Spencer, executive director of Habitat’s local chapter. “The bulldozers and the backhoes are out, and the infrastructure work is really starting in earnest.”

That work includes removing trees and installing sewers, streets, lights, gutters and utilities, Spencer said.

Site and infrastructure work should take about five months. Once that is complete, Habitat can begin pouring foundations and constructing homes in the development.

“We expect that, if all goes well, if the weather holds up, there’s a good chance we could begin some house construction in the late fall,” Spencer said.

Defusing objections

Spencer called Trinity Park a labor of love, the result of many partners contributing to the project. He said it started with Martha Morton, a private citizen who donated the land, followed by a number of financial gifts.

Another contributor was Phil Chamberlain of Chamberlain & McCreery Inc. He kicked off the fundraising efforts three years ago with a party at his house, where he helped raise more than $100,000 of seed money for Trinity Park.

Three-fourths of the $1 million needed to fully develop the land has been raised, thanks to a $450,000 grant from the city of Memphis, a $263,060 grant from the Plough Foundation, $100,000 in cash donations and $621,000 in community pledges.

Habitat for Humanity had to overcome some challenges before the project could begin. The economy presented hurdles for fundraising, but some public relations issues had to be worked out as well.

Spencer said it took some relationship-building with Oakhaven residents about the types of families who move into Habitat homes. For example, many people don’t know Habitat owners undergo rigorous financial training before being approved for a home, mitigating the chance of foreclosure or other problems.

Also, Spencer said, some people thought the homes being built there would be inferior structures. But Habitat has partnered with reputable companies to get this development under way.

The engineering firm Pickering and development consultant Smith-Western Consulting helped prepare the site. Also, Looney Ricks Kiss Architects Inc. designed the homes, something Spencer said was a huge bonus.

“To have LRK involved gave some credibility that these houses would be different,” Spencer said.

Fresher image

The homes of Trinity Park will sit on 6,000-square-foot lots. They will have three or four bedrooms and average 1,200 square feet.

Also, all of them will be built to Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division’s EcoBUILD standards, bringing such “green” features as recycled carpet, energy efficient windows, doors, HVAC units and programmable thermostats to the homes. That will help keep monthly utility bills low, which fits with Habitat’s mission of making home ownership affordable.

“We’re thinking about it in every possible way that’s still affordable for us, and that will not change the cost of the home for the homeowner,” Spencer said.

The reduction of utility bills is another way to lessen the financial burden that Habitat homeowners have. Not only does the organization provide zero-interest mortgages for the families, but energy-efficient homes also help them save money.

That goes to what Spencer called a “metamorphosis” at Habitat over the past few years, starting with a significant focus on better preparing homeowners for the challenges of homeownership to ensure they stay in their homes for many, many years.

“Also, there is a new emphasis on what our homes look like, how they function for the families, the whole concept of going green,” Spencer said. “I hope that people will look at this and have a new, fresh perspective on Habitat.

“While we are still working to create affordable home ownership for low-income families, there is a new look and a new feel to what we’re doing. I hope people will see that.”

PROPERTY SALES 103 137 4,008
MORTGAGES 84 131 4,521
BUILDING PERMITS 178 368 9,636
BANKRUPTCIES 50 110 2,995