Campus News

Building goodwill

University Housing celebrates 200 years by constructing a Habitat for Humanity house

If a man’s home is his castle, then a woman’s is. . . well, if you’re Chynitra Brown, it’s a neat, three-bedroom bungalow with a struggling lawn on a quiet Athens cul-de-sac.

Like several of her neighbors on this still-­developing street, 23-year-old Brown—a dietary aide at Athens Regional Medical Center and mother of 6-year-old Zaria—is a first-time homeowner, thanks to her own sweat equity, Habitat for Humanity and the UGA department of housing.

The project was launched about six years ago when University Housing employees were looking for a way to engage staff, students and the community, according to Jim Day, retired University Housing director. What could be more appropriate for one of the nation’s oldest university housing departments, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 2006, than to provide another roof over someone’s head?

Plucking an idea from the University of Tennessee, Day and his colleagues decided to work with Habitat for Humanity to build a house for a qualified low-income Athens resident. The team’s “Housing 4 Housing” campaign focused on raising $60,000 for a Habitat house—which would become Brown’s.

UGA Housing staffers Peter Moes and Nyerere Tryman recall the five-year fundraising effort, fueled by bake sales and game-day parking, penny drives, sales of commemorative bricks, gift-wrapping at Borders bookstores and any ingenious plot they could devise. (Earlier in the campaign, Moes was considering a Fear Factor-style contest, in which he agreed to bob for pigs’ feet in a tub of mayonnaise).

It also involved plenty of physical labor. On the first day of work at the undeveloped site, they moved dirt from one end of the yard to another using nothing but shovels and a wheelbarrow.  “It went pretty fast with the help of fellow staffers and UGA student volunteers,” Tryman said. “By the end of the first day, most of the floor had been laid.”

Under Habitat rules, Brown also put in plenty of labor toward the house. In addition to attending home-ownership classes, making a down payment and providing closing costs (and making mortgage payments), qualified, potential new Habitat homeowners must put in 500 hours of work on their own home. They also learn how to make basic repairs. Long before it was time to move in, Brown exceeded her 500 hours—and continued to work, donating the extra time to a friend who will have a home nearby.

On a crisp day in late fall, between hanging kitchen cabinets and checking lists, Habitat general contractor Beau Harvey pointed out the superior construction of the 1,000-square-foot home, a standard Habitat layout, with a small, combined living-dining-kitchen space and high-quality materials. It’s built on two-by-sixes, although the industry standard is two-by-fours. The insulation is R-13 in the walls and the windows are energy-efficient.

“The typical heating and cooling cost for a Habitat house is $100 a month,” Harvey said.

For Harvey, who has worked on six Habitat houses on this street alone, the best part of building a house is watching a community form around it.

“The neighbors will help each other out, lending lawn mowers and looking out for each other,” he said.

The project has gone so well, the housing department is already working on raising funds for its next Habitat house.

“It’s not just about building a house,” said Moes. “It’s about building a home.”