Merlene Davis: Low-income families get new opportunity

Antonia Robertson, with daughter Brandi, stood in their future home after the first day of construction.
Antonia Robertson, with daughter Brandi, stood in their future home after the first day of construction.

Antonia Robertson will be the first homeowner in a small complex of new affordable houses off Georgetown Street near New Circle Road, built by non-profit organizations.

The 16 new homes, being built by Lexington Habitat for Humanity, the Lexington-Fayette County Housing Authority and Fayette County Local Development, an arm of the Lexington Fayette County Urban League, are being built on 3.1 acres that once were a part of the Julius Marks complex, a former sanitorium.

The city gave the property to the housing authority, which in turn divvied up the property among the three organizations. Habitat and the Urban League received five lots each, and the housing authority got six. With no money needed to buy the lots, the houses are priced well. Each agency is responsible for construction of its houses.

"The land costs have always been one of the detriments to affordable housing," said Norman Franklin, vice president of international operations at the Urban League. Having the city donate the land to make homeownership possible for low-income families "hasn't happened in my memory," he said.

Rachel Childress, executive director of Habitat, said the collaboration by the three agencies is definitely something that should be copied.

"We don't need to compete to help folks," Childress said. "The more we work together, the better."

Each house will sell for $112,000 to $120,000 and have at least three bedrooms. Each will have a front porch and at least a one-car garage, and the exterior will be at least 51 percent brick.

Robertson, whose dream was to own a home, had tried before to buy a house but was turned down at the last minute because of problems with her credit history.

She turned to Habitat, followed their budget classes, and she will realize that dream soon.

"I'm feeling really good about it," Robertson said. "I've cut up my credit cards and am paying them off. I'm working on having more money in my pocket."

The sponsor for her home, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, is a not-for-profit financial-services membership organization, helping about 2.6 million members achieve financial security and give back to their communities.

The city built the circular road — Rain Garden Way — extended the sewer lines and razed two buildings using $450,000 in federal funds.

The homes are among the 48 lots that Lexington needs to find to fulfill its HOPE VI obligations that it incurred when the Bluegrass Aspendale housing project was torn down and redeveloped. The lots need to be outside of the former housing complex area.

Habitat has four houses at various levels of completion on Rain Garden Way, and it has 10 other lots in the Konner Woods subdivision farther down, where Georgetown Street becomes Georgetown Road.

Franklin said Fayette County Local Development is about to put its first house under contract with a planned completion date of Nov. 30.

With all that going on to make homes more affordable, the least that potential homeowners can do is get their finances in order. There are several classes available to help do just that. One that I will feature on Sunday is with Catholic Charities, which has classes starting in September.

Meanwhile, Robertson wants you to drop by at 4 p.m. Sunday for the dedication of her new home.

She bit the bullet, got her finances in order, and she'll soon be a homeowner for the first time in her life.

She and her son, Robert, 14, and daughter, Brandi, 11, want everyone to show up, eat a bite of food and share in their joy.

Sacrifice leads to success, which tastes so good.