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Effinghams Habitat chapter wants to work with Springfield
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Jimmy Rutland and George Groce of Habitat for Humanity are hoping to partner with Springfield on providing affordable quality housing in the city.

The group currently has properties in Rincon and Guyton and elsewhere in the county, but none in Springfield. Habitat has two lots adjacent to Springfield’s service area, Rutland said, and he has been working with city manager Brett Bennett to see if the city could extend service to those two parcels.

“We would like to go further than that,” Rutland said to Springfield council members last Tuesday night, “and George has some ideas of how the governments can cooperate with us on fulfilling our mission.”

Groce said poverty housing is not a habitat problem —“it’s a community problem. Community members see the problem when they open the newspaper and see the arrests that have recently taken place.

“We have a wonderful board of education here,” Groce said. “Our graduation rate is 76 percent now, and I’m proud of that. We are above the state average, but when you look at economically disadvantaged students, the graduation rate last year in Effingham County was 62 percent, and when you go back a couple of years prior to that, it was 47.7 percent.

“I think the question that we need to ask ourselves is what are those people doing? Are they all employed at McDonald’s or Burger King or are they out there on the corners selling drugs to yours and my children, or robbing us? We have a prison with 256 beds, and it’s full 100 percent of the time almost. Most of the people who are affected by that are raised in substandard housing.”

Habitat purchased a one-acre lot in Guyton at a tax sale. Where it once generated no tax dollars for the county, Habitat divided it into four lots and it generated about $3,200 in ad valorem taxes last year, Groce said.

“So we do have benefits,” he said.

In Statesboro, the city donated excess land to the organization and applied with Habitat for community development block grants.

“They put in all the infrastructure, the roads, all the water the sewer, and then they sold those lots back to Habitat for Humanity,” Groce said.

“Part of the grant application was they had to sell so many lots back to low income housing providers, and they were able to sell those to Habitat for Humanity.”

Groce said the house is sold for the cost that Habitat has in the house. He said if it costs $42,000 to build a house, and they have to pay $7,000 in impact and tap in and building permit fees, those fees raise the cost of the house.

“What we try to do is reach those families with the greatest need who are living in the most dire living conditions, and when we keep raising the cost of the house, it makes it harder for us to serve those families,” he said.

Groce said the group builds the house and sells it to the family with 0 percent interest, and they handle the mortgage and escrow.

“The 0 percent interest really is what makes that affordable to that homeowner,” he said. “You talk about all the foreclosures right now. We have zero foreclosures. We have never had a foreclosure in this county. Part of that is our family selection. We do a good job of selecting families that will be good partner families.”

He said what they need help with is land, impact and tap fees and infrastructure.

“We’re not asking you do donate it to us; we’re asking you to partner with us and help us apply for grants available through HUD and federal organizations where we can pull down that money,” Groce said.

He said the group will never ask for money to build houses because the group is a Christian organization, and he wants to share his faith with others.

Habitat currently has 12 houses in the county with four more under construction. The group does not have a location in Springfield it is considering for a house but would work with the city to find one.

“We do a good job of building the housing,” Groce said. “What we don’t do a good job of is infrastructure.”

Council member Charles Hinely asked if Habitat would apply for the HUD grants, and what part the city would play in that process. Groce said he thinks it would be a joint application where Springfield would have the “fiduciary responsibility of administering the funds.”

He said Statesboro wrote in the application to HUD that they would sell land to Habitat. One of the problems Effingham Habitat has is finding people with the time to write grant applications.

“Statesboro has done an outstanding job,” Groce said.

If Springfield had 10 acres to donate to Habitat, there isn’t a mechanism for the city to do that, Groce said. What Statesboro has done is go before the General Assembly to create a land bank, which is used for a clearing process to donate land to Habitat.

Groce also said Guyton has helped out by waiving impact fees, and Habitat only pays a $100 building permit fee.

“The city of Guyton has been great,” he said. “They waive the impact fees. We pay a $100 building permit fee.”

He said Habitat has not built any houses recently in Rincon, and they don’t know what their procedures are. The county will not waive fees. The ordinance for the county allows them to waive the impact fee if they have another source to recover those fees.

“All we’re looking for today is to establish the ball rolling, and to see if this is something that the city of Springfield might be willing to do in partnering with Habitat,” Groce said.

Council member Butch Kieffer said he thinks it is a good thing to look into.

“I don’t know what the city can do,” he said, “but I’d like to see us start the process to see what we can do, and partner with them in any way we can.”