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VOL. 129 | NO. 143 | Thursday, July 24, 2014

Building Community

Grace-St. Luke’s teams up for first GraceBuilders House

By Amos Maki

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Over a recent weekend, around 30 members of Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church descended on a home in the Northwood Hills community just north of Raleigh.

John Jennings, from left, Betsy Black and Edith Heller of GraceBuilders with Anna Gattuso and Amy Schaftlein, right, of United Housing in front of the first GraceBuilders house.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

They came armed with determination and demolition tools, spending most of the weekend ripping out old appliances, tearing away wallpaper that had seen better days and preparing the dog-eared house for a rehabilitation project that will make it a home.

“They asked us to do something challenging and big and different that the parish could participate in,” said Edith Heller, chairwoman of GraceBuilders, which will pursue meaningful building projects in the community and is part of the Midtown church’s community outreach efforts. “I’m thankful we’re able to do this and do the mission of helping others.”

Grace-St. Luke’s has partnered with United Housing Inc., a nonprofit affordable-housing agency that helps families in Memphis, Shelby County and throughout West Tennessee, and the Community Housing Development Organization program administered by the Shelby County Department of Housing to create the first GraceBuilders House at the home on Walden Cove. In addition to supplying a $25,000 grant for the project, Grace-St. Luke’s members will provide some of the much-needed elbow grease to make the rehabilitation effort a reality.

“It certainly is a benefit in the long run to us because they get something out of it and we get something out of it, too,” said Mike Brunk, a subcontractor who serves as United Housing’s construction manager.

Over five weekends, Grace-St. Luke’s members will work with United Housing to renovate the house for a first-time buyer in United Housing’s new-homeowner education program.

“We wanted some hands-on outreach projects so it’s not just money and it’s fun for the parish members to work together,” said Heller.

Founded in 1994 as an affiliate of the United Way of the Mid-South, United Housing offers several outreach programs that have helped more than 3,000 families own a home and rehabilitated dozens of formerly vacant houses.

The agency helps both first-time and recurring homebuyers purchase homes and provides free homebuyer and foreclosure-prevention education.

Volunteer Betsy Black trims the hedges in front of Grace-St. Luke’s first GraceBuilders house. The church has sent around 30 volunteers to the project.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

During its 2014 fiscal year, United Housing sold 30 homes, helped 270 families save their homes through its Hardest Hit Fund program, assisted 142 families with down payment and closing costs and helped 235 families purchase a home. United Housing’s total economic impact on the area was $115 million, which includes leveraged first mortgage loans, sales price and home values, Realtor commissions and mortgages saved.

Brunk, United Housing’s construction manager, has witnessed from the ground level the impact rehabilitating a vacant or foreclosed property can have on families and communities. They can help stabilize communities that may have been caught in the downward spiral of foreclosures, declining property values and owner-occupied homes that were turned into rentals.

When neighbors in hard-hit areas see investment in a neighborhood home and a new family moving in, they often make improvements to their own property, helping lift the image and appeal of a whole community.

“I know firsthand, without any question whatsoever, all of these rehabilitation projects have impacted the neighborhoods they’re in,” said Brunk, who has helped rehabilitate 120 homes.

Heller said the Grace-St. Luke’s team will next tackle landscaping work, trimming bushes and removing overgrowth. Once the house is complete and the family is selected, Grace-St. Luke’s plans on hosting a celebration at the home and donating new appliances to the homeowners.

“I think so many people are afraid of their neighbors or don’t know their neighbors, and by doing a project like this, we can begin a coming together of the community,” said Heller.

But before that, Heller said the Grace-St. Luke’s team still needs a few supplies, such as nail guns and compressors.

“We don’t have an abundance of that at Grace-St. Luke’s,” Heller said with a laugh.

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