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Building the perfect homeowner

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By Brian Garner

A house commissioned by the i58 homeowner initiative and built by York Tech construction students is almost completed; now you might say they’re going to build a homeowner.

Kevin Taylor, i58 board member and Ember Church pastor, put it this way in an informational video: “We’re looking for a homeowner, that person who said they’ve always dreamed of owning a home, but never thought it was possible – that person who’s willing to put in some work if they had someone come along side of them and help them with the process.”

Members of the i58, a community development corporation established for “bringing home ownership to Chester, one home at a time,” conducted their first informational meetings recently for those interested in the possibility of getting a home through the i58 program.

Taylor explained the i58 is a community development corporation that Ember Church established to operate the housing program. The name is based on Isaiah Chapter 58. According to the i58 website, ‘In Isaiah 58, God promises that if His people will take care of those in need, then His light will break out like the dawn. He will refresh them and they will rebuild the ancient ruins and build on the age-old foundations so that they can be called the repairers of the streets in which they dwell. That is our vision for Chester.’

At the presentation, Taylor told the audience the first house is about 60-percent completed.

 “I was excited when we ‘broke ground’ on the house, which is being built at York Tech in Rock Hill, and I’m even more excited about meeting with people and this idea of home ownership as what I believe it could be for our community,” Taylor said.

He then showed the informational YouTube video that explained how the program works. The house is being built at York Tech in Rock Hill, and the building construction department is using the build as a training opportunity for their students to gain experience in building a house from the ground up. The house will be moved from Rock Hill to Chester by ABC Movers and will be moved to a lot in Chester on Cemetery Street that the i58 acquired from the Chester County Forfeited Land Commission.

“If the house is exciting, then the home ownership initiative is even more exciting,” Taylor said on the video.

He explained the program would gather up the applicants who always dreamed of home ownership but thought they would never have the opportunity. i58 will train those applicants and prepare them for their first home.

The program, Taylor said, would be a pool and a pipeline for the other applicants.

“The other (applicants) will be preparing for houses yet to come,” he said.

The training will include several aspects – financial literacy training, credit establishment and repair, establishing and managing a savings and checking account and how to make home repairs and maintenance.

“Everything that is needed to not only be in a home, but to stay in a home and be an asset to this neighborhood,” Taylor said on video.

Following the video, i58 board member Chris Gaddy said the initiative started from discussions about housing and home ownership, and how the church could help make that happen. Ember Church’s work with the East Chester Renaissance Project and being part of the Finley Center restoration made the East Chester neighborhood a place to start.

“As we began talking to the folks of East Chester, we began to hear stories about the neighborhood and the people who lived there and what it was like. East Chester was the place to be in Chester,” said Gaddy.

He said it seemed the community “hunkered down” a bit and became a little more rundown, “because there are some things going on there that aren’t that desirable. We thought, what if we could move a house in there, and maybe tear down an old house that wasn't being used, and you put a new one in there, with someone that wants to take pride in that area, and keep repeating that process, wouldn’t that neighborhood look different, 10 or 15 years from now?” he asked.

Gaddy said the i58 community development corporation has an independent board made up of individuals “who have a heart for this vision.”

Gaddy said the organization feels as if they could reproduce this model anywhere else in Chester.

“So we have the house going, now we need the applicants. This initiative is similar to how Habitat for Humanity operates, where you have a pool of applicants and each are working on getting their own house. We already have some land we can get from the Forfeited Land Comission and we may end up with 10-15 lots that are waiting on a house. We will have a pool of applicants that say ‘I didn’t get this first house, but I’m going to get the second one, and I want it on this lot.”

Gaddy said the future homeowner may even begin to tell people that the house will be put on that lot, and the homeowner may begin taking care of the future lot, even before the house is there and “gets you some skin in the game,” he said.

Gaddy said the question most asked about the program is: Are you going to give the house away?

“No, we are not giving the house away; this is a conventional home buying program, that you will have to purchase the house at fair market value. The exception is, if there is a need, we’ll be able to help you with equity in the house. By being part of the program, you may get 10-30 percent equity in this house when you end up buying it,” he said.

The i58 group has established partnerships with entities such as the USDA’s Rural Development Grant program to enable people to be ready to buy the houses that will be produced by the initiative.

“What we want to see happen is people want to be in the house, they want to be in the neighborhood where this house is going and they want to be an asset to this neighborhood. That is important to us,” Gaddy said.

He said the church got into the housing initiative because they have done other building programs in the past where they repaired someone’s home.

“What we found was we were interested in that relationship (not that you can’t build a relationship with somebody when you go fix their house,) but what a great way to spend time with somebody and help them become a homeowner.

“On the flip side of that is look what happens with the neighborhood as you build hope back,” he said.

 

Prospective homeowners can go to the i58 website, www.i58helps.org to begin the home ownership process.