Habitat projects bring new residents, investment to neighborhood


Two new houses are going up in the High Point neighborhood of Washington Terrace Park neighborhood, where Habitat for Humanity has built 25 houses in the past decade, boosting property values through a partnership with the city of High Point.

Antoine Curtis, an assistant site supervisor with Habitat for Humanity of High Point, Archdale & Trinity, watched a volunteer roll her fourth or fifth wheelbarrow of gravel and unload it in a drainage trench along the side of a property in High Point’s Washington Terrace Park neighborhood on May 14.

“Her intensity is off the charts,” Curtis remarked. “I need her in my group.”

A moment earlier, Curtis had been enthusing about a group of street musicians he encountered. He applied the same inspiring approach to motivating and directing volunteers at the Habitat housebuilding site.

“I need to be surrounded by awesomeness,” he said. “You know what happens when you’re surrounded by awesomeness? It’s like a supernova of love.

“When people see you giving your all, they want to match your intensity,” he explained. “Goodness draws people in. Habitat is about goodness whether it’s a building site or our store.”

Habitat launched a two-week “building blitz” to put up two houses on adjacent tracts in the Washington Terrace neighborhood of High Point on May 14. The two houses will be the 100th and 101st houses completed locally by the agency.

Susan Wood, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of High Point, Archdale & Trinity, said she expects 600 volunteers over the next two weeks. A crew from Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church and Covenant United Methodist Church shaped up at 8:30 a.m. on May 14, the first day of the campaign. The smell of fresh-cut two-by-fours wafted in the morning breeze as the crews set to work at the two house sites, which were previously occupied by Friendship Holiness Church and a rental house it owned. By the end of the day, stud walls would be erected on all four sides of the two houses.

“Today we were joking that we’re all Amish,” said Mirsa Nieland, a member of Immaculate Heart of Mary. “We’ll have a whole row of people holding up the walls.”

Nieland and her husband have been volunteering with Habitat for about seven years. She owns and operates a sleep center in Cary and her husband works as an engineer in the Burlington-Mebane area. The couple, who lives in Jamestown and goes to church in High Point, will likely become more involved with Habitat when they retire in the next decade or so, Nieland said.

What draws her and many others to volunteer with Habitat is the opportunity to work side by side with people of different backgrounds, she said.

“You have all kinds of people, everyone from a CEO to the family that’s going to move into the house,” she said. “You get to meet so many different people — people you might not otherwise get to know. We were working one time with students from A&T University. We had such a great time together. It’s a chance to make community with people you don’t normally get to see.”

Volunteers from Keller Williams Realty, Woodforest National Bank, Ralph Lauren Corp. and ThomasBuilt Buses are also pitching in to build the two houses, Wood said.

Habitat has five additional houses under construction in the neighborhood, she added. Habitat has built a total of 25 houses in the Washington Terrace Park neighborhood, a small community wedged between the park of the same name, University Drive and Washington Street.

“This neighborhood is a partnership between Habitat and the High Point Community Development & Housing Department,” Wood said. “The city secures the lots — usually rundown rental houses — and tears them down, and gives them to Habitat. We have 25 families in the neighborhood. You take one family and put them in a house in a neighborhood, and it doesn’t bring up the value of the neighborhood, but if you bring several families in it makes a difference.”

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Most of the modest, one-story houses in the neighborhood were built in the 1950s, with a handful dating back to the 1930s. Whether rentals or in rare cases owner-occupied, the older houses range in value from about $27,000 to about $42,000. The newer houses built by Habitat in the past decade list on the Guilford County tax rolls from roughly $85,000 to $108,000.

When the two new houses are completed, they’ll be part of a row of seven on the 1700 block of Brooks Avenue were all built by the agency in the past five years. Property tax revenue collected by the city of High Point and Guilford County has either doubled or tripled from the time the properties were owned by absentee landlords to when the new homeowners took possession, according to tax records.

The families that have taken ownership of the Habitat houses in Washington Terrace Park are a mix of Southeast Asian, African-American and African. Wood said prospective homeowners go through an application process, allowing the agency to review their financial status. To qualify for the program, applicants must earn 30 to 60 percent of area median income, which Wood said equates to about $16,000 for a family of two. Each adult in the family is expected to put in 250 hours of sweat equity to defray some of the cost of construction.

Dhan B. Tamang, a Bhutanese refugee, is anticipating moving into one of the new, almost complete houses. He and his family fled to Nepal because of employment discrimination in his native Bhutan, and were resettled in High Point five years ago. Buying a house through Habitat turned out to be an affordable option for his family.

A first-time homeowner, he said he is happy to be moving out of the rental market.

“If I own my house, it will be mine forever,” he said.