*This story originally appeared in The Budget’s Feb. 28, 2018, Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
With a backlog of eight local families awaiting decent, affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio is on the hunt for properties in Tuscarawas County on which to build.
“They are hopeful to build next year, but we don’t have the land available for them,” said Aaron Brown, director of neighborhood investment for the independent, local Habitat for Humanity International affiliate serving a five-county region that includes Stark, Tuscarawas, Carroll, Jefferson and Harrison counties. “We actually had to shut down the application process for Tuscarawas County until we can get this under control, and we can get property for the next three, four years in our pipeline.”
Brown explained that the East Central Ohio affiliate expanded its reach into Tuscarawas County about three years ago, after taking over for another affiliate that had previously served the area, but has since been having trouble finding suitable property on which to build.
“The amount of families compared to what we have is not good,” he said. “There’s not enough opportunities for us to get property down here for some reason, because it’s a more desirable place to live. It’s really hard. There’s not even a lot for sale within the city limits of Dover or New Philadelphia.”
The organization is currently searching for vacant lots within the county, ideally with existing water and sewer hookups, as well as properties containing structures in need of renovation or demolition. “I don’t want to say the word desperate but we’re borderline,” Brown said.
Donations are preferred and can typically be written off on the donor’s taxes for fair market value, however, the organization would also be willing to pay for properties provided they meet certain criteria, according to Brown. “We are not averse to purchasing. We do that all the time,” he said. “It just has to make complete financial sense. It has to look perfect, it has to be perfect, and it has to be the right price point for us to be able to do that.”
For municipal lots, the organization is seeking properties that are flat and encompass an area that is at least 60 feet across and 100 feet deep, preferably in or around Dover, New Philadelphia, Newcomerstown or Bolivar. “If those parameters all fall into place, that’s a pretty easy build for us,” Brown explained. “We can pretty much go right in and we can build. That’s what we’re looking for.”
He noted that properties should also be located in neighborhoods where property values aren’t too low or too high. “We’re looking for areas where our house, what we have into it, it’s going to appraise well. It’s going to be good for the neighborhood itself, and it’s actually increasing the property values a little bit,” Brown said. “It’s like a little bit of a balance. It’s more like middle-class neighborhoods to some degree.”
Although they are more costly to build on, the organization would also be willing to accept lots outside of a municipality with a well and septic provided and they are at least 1.2 acres in size.
Brown noted that the big, ambitious goal is to acquire a piece of property large enough to build an entire community. “So someone that has acres of land that preferably is on water and sewer, or at least we can tie into the water and sewer, where we can build 20, 30, 40 houses in one area,” he said. “That’s really what we’re going for, and I know that probably is not a donation, but that is something that we would be willing to sit down with someone to figure out how we might be able to purchase that property.”
In addition to vacant properties, the organization is also able to accept donations of properties contain- ing structures in need of renovation. “A lot of times, somebody inherited a house in somebody’s will, and they live out of state or they don’t want it or whatever the case may be,” he said. “[If] they reach out to us, we’ll come take a look at it. If it’s preservable and makes financial sense, we’ll take it as a donation.”
While it’s not something they typically like to do because of the cost, Brown said the need for land in Tuscarawas County has become so pressing that the organization would even be willing to accept properties that contain structures in need of demolition. “If there’s a dilapidated house on the lot, and we can use it post-demolition, we’ll take it. We’ll pay for the demolition,” he said. “That’s something I run into a lot where people are like, ‘I’d love to get rid of this piece of property but there’s this house on it that’s a mess. I don’t know what to do.’ We would be a perfect candidate for that because we would be able to acquire it and then we would take ownership. Once we take ownership, we’ll just tear the house down, and they don’t have to worry about it at that point, and then we’d have a buildable lot.”
Anyone with a suitable property in Tuscarawas County that they would be willing to donate or sell to the organization is invited to contact Brown by calling 330-915-5888 or emailing abrown@HabitatECO.org.
‘A hand up, not a hand-out’
Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio is among the is among the 1,400 affiliates nationwide that operate independently under the umbrella of Habitat for Humanity International to help hardworking families achieve strength, stability and independence through home ownership.
Brown noted that one of the most common misconceptions about the organization is that it gives houses away to poor people for free, however, that is not the case. Instead, families are given an opportunity to purchase a home with a zero-interest mortgage and low monthly payments provided that they meet certain criteria and program requirements.
In order to be eligible for the program, individuals must have proven income and manageable debt and live in substandard housing. They must also be willing to partner with the organization by investing 500 hours of “sweat equity” into the program by completing financial literacy and homeowner education classes and assisting with the con- struction of their own home and the homes of others in the program.
“We call it a hand up, not a hand-out,” Brown explained. “They’re hard-working people that they just don’t apply for a conventional loan, and they are not below the poverty line to the point to where they are on welfare. They’re just trying to keep it together.”
Habitat houses are built or renovated by community volunteers, and projects are partially funded through local sponsorships. To learn more about the program as well as volunteer and sponsorship opportunities, visit www.habitateco.org.