Habitat has population requirement

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Marshall County's Three Star Housing Committee has hit a bump in the road toward establishing a Habitat for Humanity program here because of a population requirement.

During a phone call with the Habitat International office, committee member Linda Mulliniks was told that there must be a population of at least 15,000 people in a county before a Habitat chapter may be formed, Mulliniks said.

"We could become an outlying community through Bedford County," she reported to the committee during its meeting last week.

Bedford Builds, the Habitat chapter in Shelbyville led by executive director Bill Parks, could sponsor an extension of its program in Marshall County, Mulliniks said. Sponsorship could also be through other Habitat chapters in neighboring counties, she said.

There's also a strong Habitat chapter based in Franklin.

However, the idea of having a Habitat for Humanity chapter in Lewisburg was brought to the committee late last year by CKNA's Lewisburg plant manager, Vitto Raffo. The CKNA plant in Shelbyville is supporting Bedford Builds, Raffo said. He's explained he wanted his company's support for low income home construction projects to be active in Lewisburg and Marshall County.

After hearing from Raffo, the Three-Star Housing Committee began to explore its options. Now, committee members know one door is closed, at least temporarily.

There are advantages to starting under the wing of another chapter, Mulliniks said. And, the committee has alternatives.

"To set up an affiliate here could take two years," she said of founding a chapter. Starting as an "outlying community" associated with an established chapter can be accomplished in about a month.

In an interview Friday morning, committee member Betsy Craig said, " If we could get on-board with one of the adjoining counties, we could get a wealth of knowledge."

Committee discussion on Thursday included observations that after Lewisburg's population met the international organization's requirement, then the program might "break away" from the host and become independent.

To start a chapter, "You have to have a paid staff and everything," Mulliniks said, "so it may be a blessing in disguise."

Another option is to proceed with a program that's similar to Habitat, but not affiliate with the program. That's apparently been under consideration since the creation of the Three Star Housing Committee of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, a state-mandated panel in each county.

"That was one of the goals," Craig said.

It was not necessarily to have a Habitat chapter, Craig said, "but to do something very similar to that."

It never materialized, in part, she explained because committee members are businessmen and women with full-time jobs.

Another reason was that committee members "decided to funnel our resources into rehabilitation" of homes that are owned and occupied by people who qualify for Community Development Block Grant assistance, Craig said.

Mulliniks and the county's mayor were in a position to proceed with CDBG funds to replace roofs, floor joists and other improvements to low income residents of the county, she said.

Those projects also included tasks that could be supported by the county's buildings and codes office.

Reports on progress toward refurbishing various owner-occupied homes for low-income families were also received and discussed during the meeting. And, despite the mortgage meltdown that's at the crux of the nation's economic issues recently, committee members were told money remains available for down payments on homes for qualified buyers.