September 30, 2013

‘A God moment’

Habitat on its way in Murray

Misty Watson

— Ground broke for the Murray County Habitat for Humanity more than four years ago.

People were geared up to begin building in the next few months.

Then nothing happened.

The lot, on Locust Street in Chatsworth, remained vacant.

Habitat families waited patiently for construction to begin on their new homes. And still nothing happened.

“You can’t just build a house in one day,” said Matt Sanford, who is on the Habitat board of directors. “It takes a lot of time. They kept hitting a wall. You line up individuals to help you, and you get ready to do it two to three months down the road, and they weren’t able to do it then. They definitely tried from what I saw.”

But now it looks like things are changing. Work has begun, and a house is going up.

Sanford, who is the project manager for the Murray County government, was asked about 18 months ago to join the Dalton-Whitfield Habitat board of directors and head the Murray County project.

“It was the perfect opportunity,” Sanford said. “It was a God moment. He was wanting me to get this going in Murray County.”

Originally the plan was for Murray County to establish its own affiliate, but officials with the international organization suggested becoming a part of the Dalton-Whitfield organization.

“With a lot of prayer ... we decided it was the right thing to do,” said Pam Stephens, president of the board of directors. “We trusted people over there, that they will support us, and they are already starting to show that ... One of our board members recommended Matt, who is just a bulldog. He gets things done.”

The organization voted to change its name to the Dalton-Whitfield-Murray Habitat for Humanity in June.

“It has been a good opportunity for Murray County,” Sanford said. “Dalton-Whitfield has taken us under their wing and are financially backing us. It’s truly a good deal. I’m very grateful.”

Stepping in to get the project started has been challenging for Sanford.

The deed had to be changed because there were some problems with how it was done initially. The property had been deeded to Habitat by the city of Chatsworth because officials at the time saw no “useful purpose” to the city for that plot of land. Building permits had to be reapplied for. Sanford has also spent time recruiting volunteers, including a builder.

Mike Grant, who referred questions to Sanford, is the contractor donating his time to building the Murray Habitat homes. He brought some of his crew to help.

“Habitat pays for the materials, but for them to donate their time is a pretty big expense,” Sanford said. “In the first year and five months not much has happened. In the last month, it’s really started to take off.”

The footer has been poured and blocks have been laid for the foundation. They are working currently to get quotes from lumber companies to begin the frame.

The plan originally called for four homes to be built on the lot, but the land is only suited for two homes, Sanford said.

“It is part of a natural drainage,” he said. “If we tried to bring dirt in and bring that one side up, we have to have plans to reroute the water runoff. It’s a tremendous expense. That would increase the cost of the house at that point. That’s not feasible for Habitat. That’s not to say we won’t go that route in the future if someone would donate time and resources.”

Habitat is a nonprofit ecumenical Christian ministry and does not receive help from the government. It relies heavily on donations and volunteers to complete projects. Homes are financed to families who qualify at 0 percent interest. Families receiving the home must volunteer 50 hours with the organization.

“People think ‘We’re not able to help,’” Stephens said. “There’s so many other things you can do other than work on a home. The family needs advocates. ... Maybe someone needs to take a meal to a work site. Maybe someone wants to donate furniture or cabinetry.”

Items that cannot be used in a home are sold in the Restore, and profits go toward building more homes.

Sanford is hopeful there won’t be a shortage of volunteers in Murray. Several churches have committed to helping.

“I definitely don’t see volunteers as an issue in the future,” he said.

Right now, Habitat is not taking applications for homes in Murray. Until more land can be acquired, more homes cannot be built there.

But Stephens hopes the organization can help make improvements to an already existing home.

“Typically that’s not what Habitat does,” she said. “There may be a family that’s working hard and fell on hard times. We might go in and do something for that family if we can pull it together. People think if they don’t see it, it doesn’t exist. It exists right here in Murray County.”

For example, there is a family who cannot have power connected to their home because the power company evaluated the home and said it’s not safe to have power connected to it. Stephens said she hopes they will be able to do something to help fix that problem.

“Habitat is more than wood or nails or paint,” she said. “It’s not building houses. It’s building lives. ... We urge the community for support. That’s what will keep us going and helping others.”