It takes discerning eyes to see past the decay at the failed Rolling Hills subdivision near downtown Durham—the disintegrating blue-gray paint, buckled siding and plywood-covered windows. But veteran contractor John Jenkins has that kind of X-ray vision. Behind even the most weather-beaten facades, Jenkins can detect a house with sturdy bones.
"I could care less what the siding was on the house," Jenkins said. "I look more at the actual structure."
Jenkins works for Builders of Hope, a Triangle nonprofit group that recycles old houses and turns them into renewed, affordable homes. On the hunt for salvageable houses, the organization recently eyed Rolling Hills, a neighborhood slated for a do-over by the City of Durham after a failed development attempt in the 1990s. Only six of the 51 houses at Rolling Hills are still occupied as the city relocates residents and plans demolition.
Despite the fact that one of the homes sat unfinished for most of the past decade, and that thieves have pilfered most of the copper electrical wiring, Jenkins and his colleagues at Builders of Hope saw potential. The group recently took five of the homes off the City of Durham's hands for $1 apiece and moved them to Wake County.
"In the meantime, we've saved demolition costs and we're keeping the houses out of the landfill," said Larry Jarvis, Durham's assistant director of community development. "So it's a win-win situation."
The houses, formerly of Aspen and Apple Blossom courts and Poinciana Drive, have now been hoisted from their foundations and hauled on back roads to housing developments in Fuquay-Varina and downtown Raleigh. There, Builders of Hope is constructing environmentally friendly developments for working families that earn less than the median income in the county.
The families who qualify to move into the communities are often stuck in the middle, said Emily Egge, vice president of development for Builders of Hope. They make too much money to qualify for many government programs for low-income families but not quite enough to afford home ownership on their own.
"This is really the paycheck-to-paycheck crowd," Egge said. Becoming a homeowner is an important first step "to build generational wealth" among these families, she said.
Recycling homes saves time and keeps tons of building materials out of landfills, and "we place a very heavy value on that," said Jenkins, director of construction development and home relocation for Builders of Hope. Though there are advantages to starting with a partially constructed home, there are costs. Moving a home can cost between $12,000 and $15,000, and then a team of workers has to demolish parts of the dwelling before building it back up, Egge said. For its developments, Builders of Hope is investing anywhere from $65,000 to $85,000 per home in improvements.
Three of the five houses moved from Rolling Hills had long been owned by the City of Durham, which repossessed them when a developer selected by the city failed to finish the project. Two of the homes had been privately owned until recently.
James C. Parker, 46, sold his three-bedroom, two-bath home at 1 Aspen Court to the city in late 2008. He had no idea his former home—his first home, and the one where he welcomed his first child—would be getting a Raleigh address.
"Whoever gets it, I hope that they enjoy it, and that it goes to someone who really needs it," Parker said.
Parker's old house has ended up on Coleman Street in a new development called State Street Village, where Builders of Hope will finish transporting and renewing 25 single-family homes by the end of the year. The formerly white single-story home now has a sunny yellow exterior and will have a sleek kitchen with granite countertops, cherry cabinets and stainless steel appliances, said Lisa Covington, who is scheduled to close on the house at the end of March.
It's the first home Covington, 46, will own. She has slowly climbed the career ladder and finally has enough money to care for her two daughters, ages 18 and 5, as well as pay a mortgage. Until now, she has lived in government-subsidized housing.
"This is a big step for me," said Covington, who holds an administrative job at the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles. "I'm stepping out. I want something different for me and my kids. I want to show them that we don't have to live under someone else's rules all the time."
Her house will meet certain standards for energy efficiency and indoor air quality. It will be walking distance from her daughter's school, church and work, and will afford Covington the type of confidence and freedom that never would have been possible without Builders of Hope, she said. She's excited to put her last name on the mailbox outside.
Builders of Hope was founded by former ad executive Nancy Murray just four years ago, but already the organization is almost finished building its first development, Barrington Village, a 24-house cul-de-sac community in Southeast Raleigh. This year, the group also plans to finish 14 houses in a Fuquay-Varina development called Consolidated Pines, and is also doing in-place revitalization of homes in the Lyon Park and West End neighborhoods in Durham.
To read more about Builders of Hope, see "Builders of Hope recycles houses, creates green jobs and provides affordable homes."