Originally created 08/19/04

Group lays firm foundation



WARRENVILLE - Patricia Green was hot, tired and moving slow Tuesday afternoon, tuckered out from a long tour of duty filling vending machines at Savannah River Site.

She was looking forward to two sundown pick-me-ups - a cold sip of bottled water and the air-conditioned cool of the first home she's ever owned.

"I'm a homeowner, and that's a dream come true," said Ms. Green, 47, who moved into a new Habitat for Humanity home Friday.

Ms. Green and her two daughters are the new residents of one of three landmark homes built by the Aiken County chapter of the nonprofit organization - the 48th, 49th and 50th homes built by local volunteers since 1988.

Trimmed with vinyl siding, the three-bedroom homes are modest, energy-efficient dwellings that capture the essence of Habitat's mission: to provide low-income families with a chance to own a house in a safe place instead of paying high rent in a poverty-stricken neighborhood.

"This shows it can be done," said Richard Church, the Aiken chapter's executive director, pointing to the three new houses along St. John's Place, a 10-home Habitat subdivision just west of Pine Log and Howlandville roads.

But the need for such housing far outstrips Habitat's ability to meet it, said S.M. "Pep" Pepper, the president of the chapter's board of directors. The shifting demographics of the county's working poor, which now includes a hefty number of Hispanics, presents a fresh challenge to the organization's efforts to reach their target clientele.

"A lot of people are not aware of Habitat and only have a vague notion of who we are and what we have to offer," Mr. Pepper said. "It's a challenge for us to penetrate every community and get the message out."

Habitat's reliance on sponsors and volunteers allows the group to put people into homes worth $80,000 to $85,000 with mortgages ranging from $40,000 to $45,000. That works out to be a $280 to $300 monthly payment for a Habitat homeowner.

Those who qualify have to put down $500 and agree to a regimen of "sweat equity" - about 200 hours of work for each adult and 100 hours for each child to help build the home.

"Because of the down payment, because of the work on the house, it takes away from the charity aspect," Mr. Church said. "They can say 'Hey, nobody gave me anything. I worked for it. I built this house.'"

Ms. Green, who is legally blind and works for the South Carolina Commission for the Blind, wielded a hammer and paint brush, framed windows, clambered up a ladder to the rooftop and crawled underneath her home to help tack on insulation.

"We work," she said. "We work for a living. We don't get nothing for free."

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or jim.nesbitt@augustachronicle.com.

MILESTONE HOMES

The Aiken County chapter of Habitat for Humanity recently finished building its 48th, 49th and 50th homes in a Warrenville subdivision. The chapter also has built houses on the north side of Aiken and in Bath.