In 1985 I was involved in the first Habitat for Humanity International (HHI) house build in
Jackson, Miss. This was early in the formation of HHI and the concept truly revolutionized the approach to the problem of eliminating sub-standard housing. The founder, Millard Fuller was a successful business-person and devout Christian who utilized his skills to build an incredible non-profit international organization. I have read three of his books and we hosted him on campus in 1993. He was a dynamic speaker and motivational presence, it was easy to see why the organization became so successful.
In 1993, Housing Sewanee Inc. was founded and modeled after HHI. The St. Marks community in Sewanee was like most southern towns divided in many ways. The housing stock was an embarrassment. In replacing and razing many of the homes in this community we made a tremendous amount of progress from 1993 to 2010 in restoring dignity to homeownership. Our new mortgages were affordable, long-term residents of Sewanee were willing to put the sweat equity into helping in any way they could and with patience and diligence the landscape changed.
There are some who may criticize that the divide still exists and housing conditions are still unsatisfactory. I do not claim we have done everything to change that, nor do I think the sociological issues have vanished. What I do know is that if you were standing in parts of Sewanee in 1990 compared to now, you would be absolutely appalled. HSI has built seventeen houses. That number doesn’t sound that large in Atlanta, Memphis or New Orleans but in a small town like Sewanee it represents a large housing stock.
This history is important to reiterate and it may sound nostalgic and self-serving at times. The HHI model has been an effective model to emulate. In 1993 when I spent time in conversation with Millard Fuller his focus and determination were dazzling.
Housing Sewanee Inc.’s mission is still the same, to provide affordable housing to low-income clients. The HHI model is a tried and true methodology that engages clients in the process, loans them affordable money and utilizes volunteer labor. We will continue this. But, recently we have had the privilege of exploring new building concepts. These practices are representative of “other” housing non-profits that have unfolded due mainly to the original success of HHI. In 2002 we took our first group of students to see Rural Studio in Alabama, a housing organization that has taken a fascinating direction. We were able to utilize some of the Rural Studio practices in the sixteenth HSI home.
The Sherwood Springs H1 home has been an opportunity to explore and implement a different approach to some of these building practices.
1) Utility costs represent a large part of low-income family’s budgets. They have increased and their usage is the focus of our demonstration home. Alternative systems are a way of countering these rising costs. Detailed records will be kept to represent accurate data.
2) Our temporary focus does not need to be on “production.” If we can build a small home with energy efficient techniques, which is affordable and has maintainable alternative systems, then we can use this as a model for “production.”
3) Alternative systems may not be alternative anymore. Many of the technologies today have been tested.
4) We have construction supervisors who are very talented individuals able to implement these alternative systems.
5) These systems fall under the rubric of “sustainability” which in a University town is part of the educational fabric.
6) Who will want to see this home and benefit?
Summer working groups
University and Seminary classes
St. Andrews students
Sewanee Elementary School classes
Other housing agencies
Interested citizens building homes
We are an organization that is nimble enough to be open-minded to other possibilities.
S. Dixon Myers
Housing Sewanee Inc.