Habitat for Humanity of Warren County was established in 1996. In its first two decades, 27 houses have been constructed thanks to community support.
Those homes are now providing shelter for more than 70 children and their parents.
“We have had many, many wonderful success stories,” said Todd Herzog, who has been with the local organization since 1998, the same year construction of the first home began. “We have very few negative stories. We’ve had one or two that just absolutely haven’t worked out. We’ve built 27 homes so far, so I think our track record is pretty good.”
The organization gives people a hand up into homeownership and not a hand out. A common misconception is Habitat for Humanity gives away homes. Rather, it offers homeownership opportunities to families who are unable to obtain conventional house financing.
Helping keep the success stories high are the requirements for families to become Habitat home recipients. Herzog says the requirements are an advantage and the biggest challenge facing the organization.
“You would think that you are providing affordable housing and you would have them standing in line, knee deep, ready to apply but that’s just not the case,” said Herzog. “I guess that’s just the nature of the animal. To find a family group with at least one parent and generally, at least one child, credit checks, character checks, desirability to work with us, willingness to make a long-term commitment, those are all major challenges. It’s hard to do. We really appeal to our volunteer groups to help. We encourage input from anyone who knows a family that might quality, but it is a continuing challenge.”
Families must meet the following criteria:
• Have lived in Warren County for at least one full year
• Have a satisfactory rental history
• Have a reasonable credit history
• Have had steady income for one year
• Need for housing due to substandard, unsafe, overcrowded conditions, or paying one-third more of gross income on housing
Yearly gross income between 25-50 percent of Warren County median income
To qualify for homeownership, prospective Habitat families must contribute 500 hours of sweat equity on the construction of their home or someone else’s, as well as undergo the education process to prepare them for the transition from renters to homeowners.
“The training is commonsense stuff,” said Herzog. “How do you manage and maintain a home. What do you do if you have this issue? How does the financing work? We train them on the practical things of being a homeowner. These are things that renters usually don’t have to worry about.”
Habitat families must also put approximately $1,000 in escrow that can be accumulated over one year’s time which is for filing, first month payment, and annual insurance, etc. In return, they get an affordable mortgage that averages approximately $300 to $325 per month. Mortgage payments, which includes insurance and property taxes, are kept affordable because Habitat houses are built using donations of land, material, and labor. There is no charge for labor but receiving families must pay back the building material at cost.
Approximately 24 of the 27 homes are located inside the city limits, with some of those lots provided by the city of McMinnville.
“Almost all our homes are within the city. There are a couple exceptions. Of the 27, I can only think of three that are outside the city. We are definitely a favoring factor for the city of McMinnville and not surprisingly, Mayor Jimmy Haley has helped us increasingly more every year. Last year, he was probably at our worksite three to four times. And, he continues to look for possible lots that could be deeded over to us to do our magic.”
The organization takes unwanted lots in most any condition and transforms them into suitable sites to construct a home. Once complete, the effort helps a family, adds to the city’s tax base by increasing the assessed value of the property, and improves the quality of life and value of the neighborhood, as well as the city as a whole.
“Mayor Haley is one of our bigger advocates,” said Herzog. “He has been very supportive.”
Volunteers, providing material and labor, are never in short supply. Herzog says Tennessee is called the Volunteer State and that distinction is alive and well in Warren County.
“Our story of volunteerism is really the fiber that makes us go,” said Herzog. “I can tell you that volunteerism is alive and well in Warren County in the true spirit of Tennessee. We always have an abundance of people, organizations and businesses ready and willing to step up and help. We have from the beginning.”
The organization was established in 1996, but the first home wasn’t built until 1998. In 1996, City Bank (now Regions Bank) donated $25,000 for the construction of a house. In 1998, the Carrier Corp. contributed $35,000 for the construction of a house. Construction on both of these houses started in 1998 and they were dedicated in April of 1999.
Carrier was a national Habitat partner. Carrier (United Technologies) provided funds, work force volunteers and HVAC units for 13 homes built between 1998 and 2006. Carrier supported the local Habitat work annually until the Morrison plant’s closure in November 2005.
Bridgestone and USW 1155L have also supported the local Habitat affiliate with funds, landscaping materials and work force volunteers on multiple homes. Bridgestone provided funds and/or the work force to blitz build three homes (in 2006 on Smith Street, in 2010 on Bradywine Street and in 2014 on Estridge Street).
Nissan became a partner with the local Warren County affiliate in 2009 by providing funds and work force volunteers to build a 2010 Habitat home. Nissan sponsored a second home in 2011 and a third home in 2012 in Warren County.
Due to the over 400 individual volunteers who have worked annually on the construction of the homes, Warren County is able to build a home from block foundation to move in ready in less than four months.
Warren County Middle School and high school student organizations – Interact, JROTC, football team, basketball teams, golf teams, cheerleaders, special education, etc. – and faculty members have also provided support for Habitat homes by helping build them.
Herzog says the organization also provides an additional benefit of allowing the students in those organizations to learn the value of giving back to the community, but sometimes the students become the teachers.
“This year, we had a home that we built that had a lot of brush on the back lot. Students from Covenant Academy, as well as the basketball teams, completely cut that out and cleaned it out. They moved a mountain of trash. That backyard went from an eyesore to gorgeous. While they were at it, they went over and trimmed the backyard of a neighbor. The neighbors were thrilled to death about it. Those kids really made a difference.”
Offering hands-on expertise is a dedicated building crew that includes a contractor. Less knowledgeable volunteers when it comes to building a home are instructed by those individuals as they construct the home.
To help fund the effort even more, Warren County Habitat for Humanity Restore was established. Donated items are sold and funds go into the home building effort. The Restore is located at 191 Industrial Drive just off Red Road in McMinnville. Current hours are Tuesday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It can be reached at 474-9000.
The Habitat for Humanity of Warren County Board is composed of 15 people. If you would like to apply for Habitat home consideration, applications can be printed from the organization’s website at www.hfhofwarrencounty.com or picked up at McMinnville Electric System.