Marshall, Williamson cooperating on Habitat

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Steps are being taken to establish an affiliation between Habitat for Humanity of Williamson County and the Three Star Housing Committee of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board in Marshall County.

Having discovered Habitat International's rule that an independent chapter can't be located in a county without a city of 15,000 people or more, leaders of the Three Star Housing Committee sought a partner and has apparently found one.

To that end, the Three Star Housing Committee met last week with John Besser, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Williamson County, in the Marshall County Courthouse Annex to review what could be expected from Besser's group if it is going to be the senior partner for a Habitat organization here. In turn, Besser asdised the committee what would be expected of leaders here.

"I don't think there'll be any problems," Besser said. "We just need to make sure that our ability and your expectations are a good fit.

"There are a lot of details to work out," Besser said.

The Three Star Housing Committee is one of several panels focused on as many topics under the auspices of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board. A JECBD is required in all Tennessee counties under the same state law that requires 20-year growth plans and other projects. As such it is a government panel. Habitat groups have been founded as Christian non-profit organizations.

As the JECDB has sought to coordinate various projects to assist residents' housing needs - including refurbishing homes with Community Development Block Grants -Housing Committee members have considered the ideas pursued by Habitat. That desire appears to be nearing reality.

Local partners would be responsible for getting volunteers for the construction phase of building a Habitat house, Besser said. General fundraising and sponsorship would be other responsibilities of the local group.

The Williamson County affiliate would oversee family support services, selection of families deemed suitable for a Habitat house, financial documentation and accounting of so-called sweat equity, the latter being the value of a home buyer's work to build their home and others.

As the number of homes to be built in one year increases, the partnership is to become more formalized and might lead the Williamson County group to post an employee here, Besser said.

"Can we start out with only one?" asked Three Star Committee Chairman Ronald Robinson, executive director o the Lewisburg Public Housing Authority.

Besser said yes, and Colleen Dudley, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Tennessee who was also at the Three Star Housing Committee meeting, confirmed that's possible.

"We get a lot of support from churches," Besse said, indicating about 75 percent of the organization's support is from religious organizations.

The average cost of building a Habitat home in Williamson County is about $47,000 Besser said. In Franklin, Habitat is planning to build 13 houses on land behind the county library.

Calsonic Kansei Plant Manager Vitto Raffo brought renewed interest to the Three Star Committee for establishing a Habitat organization in Lewisburg. Part of that was because CalsonicKansei North America (CKNA) in Shelbyville became active with the Habitat program there and Raffo didn't want his communit left out.

Raffo attended the meeting with Besser and Linda Mullinicks, a member of the committee, and said, "This is a wonderful program to give people help to get a home."

Besser provided a number of documents to the members of the Three Star Housing Committee and the group adjourned to review the materials and schedule another meeting.