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It takes a village: Inside the upcoming 8-acre Habitat housing development in Southeast Denton

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Habitat Village

An aerial view of the future home of Habitat Village in Southeast Denton.

A vacant 8.23-acre lot between Duncan Street and Hill Street and along Smith Street in Southeast Denton will soon become a 35-home affordable development built by Habitat for Humanity of Denton County.

Dubbed Habitat Village, the subdivision is the biggest undertaking for Habitat Denton thus far. Along with 35 three- and four-bedroom single-family houses, the development also will introduce necessary infrastructure including streets, sidewalks and utilities. Construction on the project will be divided into two phases and is expected to take eight years to complete, with 16 homes completed in the first stage and the remainder being completed in the second.

The Denton City Council voted to approve the planned development in February, allowing the project to move forward. Habitat is fundraising for the $2.1 million needed for site preparation and infrastructure through a capital campaign. The homes themselves typically cost around $125,000 to build, but each house is funded by sponsors and donations from community partners.

The project is an opportunity to begin addressing a growing need for affordable housing in Denton County, said Glenn Ward, president of the Habitat Denton County Board of Directors. Habitat acquired the land that will make up Habitat Village through a series of purchases between 2011 and 2015. Typically, Habitat buys single lots that have utility capabilities, but the organization saw a unique opportunity with the undeveloped land.

“We actually were sitting on that land, trying to figure out how we move forward, and we’ve gone through a lot of iterations over the past few years, and just in the last year or so, we’ve really solidified plans,” Ward said. “I think the big driver for us is land has become much more expensive, so you know Habitat is trying to build affordable homes for our families that we bring on board, and trying to find affordable lots in Denton County is proving to be more and more challenging.”

Most buildable lots in Denton County cost $65,000 to $95,000 compared with $5,000 to $15,000 less than 20 years ago. And with local market prices skyrocketing amid a dip in supply and rising lumber prices, the possibility of homeownership for low-income families in Denton County could be pushed further out of reach over the next few years, said Lora Blakeslee Atkinson, executive director of the Denton County affiliate.

“They’re affordable housing for really hard-working low-income families that, quite frankly, would never be able to purchase a home in this county, especially how prices are escalating,” Atkinson said.

Although Ward said some people might think Habitat homes are free, families place down payments on houses and pay a monthly mortgage just like other homeowners. Buyers also help build their own homes, volunteering 350-400 “sweat equity” hours. But 30-year Habitat mortgages are interest-free, and families are required to put down only $1,000 instead of the 3.5% to 10% typically required for traditional home loans from the Federal Housing Administration.

Homes are priced at market value, and following guidelines from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Habitat families have a cap on the amount of their income they can put toward the mortgage payment. Habitat covers any remaining costs in the form of a second, forgivable mortgage, Ward said.

While Denton County Habitat typically tries to control costs to mitigate forgivable loans so more funding can go toward housing families, the rapidly increasing values of homes in North Texas could mean Habitat would need to cover more of the mortgage for each home.

“We make sure that we are within the limits that we try to set ourselves, but there’s definitely a concern as we move forward over the next five or six years and start developing this village, that whatever happens with the house pricing, whatever happens with the cost of raw materials for building houses, will have a direct impact on how we continue to grow,” Ward said.

Occupants for the homes will be chosen through Habitat’s normal application process, which opens about four times annually. Applicants should have a need for shelter — Habitat Denton prioritizes those who have a lack of adequate space or live in overcrowded conditions — be willing to partner with the organization and fall within the annual income guidelines. A committee of community volunteers selects future occupants from among the pool of applicants.

Those chosen for Habitat homes don’t just receive affordable mortgages, Ward said — they participate in financial training and learn about homeownership. When homes are paid off, families keep the equity and retain full ownership. The program is built around a desire to empower families who might otherwise not have the opportunity to own a home and give future generations roots in North Texas.

Outside of Habitat Village, Habitat Denton typically averages three to four homes a year but hopes to eventually increase that number to between five and seven.

Habitat Village is working with the city zoning department to complete surveys and hopes to break ground on the development in 2022, Atkinson said. For the families that rely on programs like Habitat’s for affordable homeownership, Ward says the homes will mean a new beginning.

“We see with our families that the children of the families get the benefit of their parents getting onto the housing ladder and building equity in their homes, so our remit is to try and get more families into affordable housing and help more within the Denton area with what is a vastly needed commodity in our community,” Ward said. “It’s an opportunity to do something they otherwise would not get to, and there’s so many people struggling to have that opportunity now.”

AMBER GAUDET can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @amb_balam.

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