From the show of hands at the Monday, March 27 meeting, Habitat for Humanity is an organization that is well-known and supported by Rotarians in our club. Speaker Randy Lanou, co-founder of BuildSense, elicited chuckles from the attendees when he commented, “Well, I can see that promoting Habitat to the Rotary Club is like going hunting at the zoo.”
Many of the hands came down, however, when Lanou asked who knew Habitat’s vision statement. Efficiently and eloquently stated, it consists of just nine words: “A world where everyone has a decent place to live.”
Contrary to the perception of many, Habitat doesn’t give houses away. Potential homeowners have to qualify and demonstrate their commitment to maintain a mortgage on the home, participate in financial training, and contribute hundreds of hours in sweat equity assisting in construction of the house. Since 1985, Durham Habitat has helped over 600 families with housing upfits or new construction. Habitat’s administrative costs are commendably low, with 91 percent of all dollars donated “hitting the ground,” so to speak.
BuildSense, a top-rated full service architecture and construction firm, is one of five local builders partnering with Durham Habitat on this year’s 2017 Builder’s Blitz. Other companies, many of whom had representatives at the meeting, include B. Wallace Design and Construction, Garman Homes, Durham Building Company, and Thayer Homes. This year’s goal is to build five homes in just seven days.
The blitz will begin Friday, June 2, with the dedication of the homes set for Friday, June 9. Durham Habitat is seeking donations to help support the blitz, largely with what Lanou terms “hospitality needs.” Contributions can be a small as $60 – $75 per day (coffee or snacks for the workers) to $500 – $1,000 (lunch for one day or bottled Powerade/Gatorade), and up to $20,000 for the major underwriting sponsorship. Those interested can contact Development Officer Jennifer McFarland at email@example.com.
The one-week build schedule is “mildly accelerated,” Lanou says with a wry smile, holding up a spreadsheet to demonstrate the complexity of the ambitious project. “We are very fortunate that these builders contribute their time and labor unselfishly, and subcontractors donate or discount materials whenever possible, from the time the first shovel goes in the dirt through the completion of construction.”
And then there are those enthusiastic Rotarians, who contribute time, money, manpower, womanpower, and kidpower year-round to Habitat builds. Don Stanger, a downtown Rotarian who, along with his wife Bettina, have supported Habitat for years, including major sponsorship of the last Habitat home that the club sponsored.
Lanou showed a time-lapse video from blitzes in 2014 and 2016, when two houses were built on lots in East Central Durham. The sites for this year’s build are close by each other on Angier Avenue and Bingham Street. Habitat keeps a “land bank” of potential building lots, and they choose the sites according to need and suitability of the project.
And while the blitz doesn’t formally begin for another two months, the builders are engaged in intense planning and preparation with their employees and partners, developing an elaborate system of checks and balances in the event of a rare unexpected occurrence – a delivery doesn’t arrive on time, or the product specifications were incorrect, for example. “We are working with subcontractors who we use regularly, and we know we can depend on them,” Lanou explained. “We have committed to working with them on other jobs throughout the year, so we feel very confident about these partnerships.”
He also gave a shout-out to Durham City for their flexibility in building inspections and issuing certificates of occupancy in a timely manner, particularly given the time sensitivity of the building period. The City also makes land donations and helps homeowners secure mortgages at a reasonable rate.
If you’ve never worked a Habitat build before, don’t worry – every work day starts with a safety orientation, and they’ll supply you with plans, tools, and training every step of the way. You can volunteer to help serve meals to the volunteer workers, or make a tax-deductible donation. Whatever way you choose, you’ll be helping eliminate substandard housing and help foster thriving communities in Durham. www.durhamhabitat.org.