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Chris Tuckness, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, stands where 14 homes will be built in Phase 3 of the Legacy Trails neighborhood project.
Tawnie Wilson | SBJ
Chris Tuckness, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Springfield, stands where 14 homes will be built in Phase 3 of the Legacy Trails neighborhood project.

Ground for Growth: ARPA funds spark Phase 3 of Habitat for Humanity’s Legacy Trails project

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Habitat for Humanity of Springfield, Missouri Inc. is embarking on Phase 3 of the Legacy Trails subdivision it began in 2006.

The third and final phase of the project will bring 14 new homes to a northwest Springfield neighborhood that already has 39 completed houses and two remaining lots.

Mark Murphy, Habitat Springfield’s director of construction, said infrastructure elements, including sewer, electric, water, roads and sidewalks, are out for bid, and project permits have been obtained. The neighborhood is located north of Interstate 44 and east of North Kansas Expressway.

Habitat was awarded $475,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds from the Greene County Commission’s $23 million allocation for local organizations. Most of this sum will be used on infrastructure expenses.

Additionally, a $250,000 grant from the Sunderland Foundation will provide funds for home construction.

Chris Tuckness, Habitat’s executive director, characterized a neighborhood like Legacy Trails as an older model for Habitat for Humanity and noted officials have shifted focus in recent years to remodeling or building homes to revitalize existing neighborhoods.

Tuckness said homebuying partners choose their own lot, and many like a model where they are surrounded by other Habitat homebuyers in a neighborhood. Others prefer the model of having a single Habitat home within one of the city’s longstanding neighborhoods.

“We like to have that inventory and offer a couple of options,” he said.

Red flag issue
Housing instability and a shortage of safe, affordable housing were listed as red flag issues in the 2021 Community Focus Report for Springfield and Greene County.

Amber Mueller, director of development and partnerships for Habitat’s local chapter, said there is plenty of demand for the additional housing.

“We currently have 16 people in our program,” she said. “Especially with the state of the economy, we’re constantly receiving applications.”

Those applications go through a vetting process by a committee, which examines applications, performs home visits and assesses the stability of applicants’ finances.

“We work to get the finances to the point that they are sustainable,” Mueller said.

A successful applicant becomes a Habitat partner, eligible for a no-interest mortgage.

Mueller said Greene County’s poverty level is higher than the state and national averages. U.S. Census Bureau figures from July 2023 show 15% of county residents living in poverty, compared with 11.5% nationally.

Mueller added that local renters contend with unsuitable properties.

“We have some people living in homes that are not really livable,” she said.

Habitat connects potential partners to organizations like the Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc. and the O’Reilly Center for Hope that can help them meet immediate needs, Mueller said, and meanwhile it offers tools for life classes on topics like personal finance, conflict resolution and home repairs.

Habitat’s homebuying program offers an opportunity for families or individuals who might not qualify for a traditional home loan, noted Daniel Schekorra, director of marketing and communication, in a written description of the program. Partner homebuyers complete 250-350 hours of work, called sweat equity, before assuming homeownership, including time spent on construction of homes, and they also take 14 Tools for Life homeowner education courses.

When $25,000 has been secured, construction can begin, and additional funds are assigned as needed for subcontractors and materials, according to Schekorra. Some 70% of the labor is provided by volunteers who are directed and assisted by the nonprofit’s construction team, and this ensures that the cost to build the home will be less than the home’s appraised value.

According to its application, homebuyers must meet income guidelines; For a family of four, applicant gross income must be between $22,600-$60,250. Buyers must pledge to maintain and repair their homes after purchase and to make payments on time.

Habitat pays to build each house, and the cost to the organization is reduced through donations of materials and labor, according to Tuckness. The organization’s annual Tool Belts & Bow Ties gala has the goal of raising enough money to pay for construction of one house. Most recently for the organization, Lisa Duke, a partner homebuyer and mother of three, signed a purchase agreement on Dec. 20, 2023, for a house costing $165,000. That was the home paid for by donors at the 2022 gala.

According to the 2023 annual report, Habitat ended the year having sold two houses and with four homes in progress, and 32 homes were repaired.

As its own mortgage lender, Habitat allows payment plans to be customized so that the partner homeowner’s loan-to-earnings ratio is 20% or less on the interest-free mortgage.

Sweat equity
Murphy said Phase 3 will close out the neighborhood, and he added that some changes have been incorporated since 2006.

“We have newer floor plans that we’re implementing which are more conducive to sitting on every size lot that we may own, regardless of house size,” he said.

Murphy said the new floor plans come in especially handy in some of Springfield’s historic neighborhoods.

“In the past, in a 50-foot-wide lot, the only houses I could fit on were two- to three-bedroom,” he said. “By redesigning the homes, making them narrower and deeper, I’m able to fit up to six bedrooms.”

He added that the homes have a newer look, with some updates to materials and options to customize appearance.

The materials also meet stringent energy standards, he said.

Tuckness said donors have come through with discounts and donations on items like granite countertops, wood cabinets and exterior options that help to add equity to the home at no extra cost.

Mueller added that some local contractors help to make this possible through in-kind donations of time and materials. An example is Cox Roofing Co. LLC, which has partnered with material supplier Atlas Roofing to put roofs on Habitat houses.

Teaching as they go
Murphy said the members of his staff all have well over 30 years of construction experience each.

Work sites often include volunteers, among them future homeowners, who have little to no experience in building. Murphy said a big component of the work is imparting construction skills to others.

“That’s the backbone of what Habitat for Humanity’s all about, bringing the community together to help someone get into a quality home,” he said. “Our job is to teach that volunteer how to do what we do.”

Murphy said working with volunteers has its advantages.

“In a lot of ways, having volunteers is easier than having somebody who may have some experience and they’re set in their ways,” he said. “Of course, it’s a challenge, but a volunteer wants to be there, and sometimes that’s different than someone that’s just there to get hours and collect a paycheck.”

He added that he enjoys working with students in construction-related programs at Drury University and Missouri State University, as these students get a real advantage through hands-on experience.

“There’s a big difference between someone who’s book smart with construction and someone who can go out and physically implement what they’ve learned,” he said.

On occasion, people who start out as Habitat volunteers end up with careers in construction.

“When I’m hiring, I can ask plenty of questions about construction management, and somebody who’s been through classes can give me three management styles easily, but how do they actually implement those?” he said.

Murphy said he has staffing problems himself at the moment.

“It’s just not easy to hire, because we need people that understand construction itself, but I have to have the personality type that can work with people of all types and be able to communicate and teach,” he said. “It takes a pretty special person to work here.”

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