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April 18, 2014
San Marcos Area Habitat for Humanity will begin construction this spring on the first of two houses in its Victory Gardens affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization program.
On April 14, Habitat San Marcos completed its purchase of a quarter-acre tract on Stillwell Street in the Victory Gardens neighborhood. The all-volunteer, nonprofit organization will demolish an uninhabitable house and replace it with two energy-efficient 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom homes designed by San Marcos architect Pax Chagnon, a local Habitat board member.
The Stillwell Street property was purchased with $32,939 in federal Community Development Block Grant money allocated to Habitat San Marcos by the San Marcos City Council in 2012.
The first house will be a occupied by Brenda McKinney, a San Marcos resident who has worked for 5½ years for H-E-B Grocery Co. McKinney and her three teenage children will put in 300 hours of “sweat equity” during their home’s construction and make monthly payments on a 20-year, no-interest loan secured by Habitat San Marcos.
The homes are sold at prices drastically below market value because of thousands of labor hours donated during construction under the supervision of San Marcos homebuilder Tom Taber of Vista Homes.
Habitat San Marcos is looking for a partner family for the second Stillwell Street house. Applicants must earn less than 60 percent of the median household income for the region and demonstrate the ability to make monthly payments of about $600.
Habitat for Humanity maximum incomes
To qualify as a partner family for San Marcos Area Habitat for Humanity’s affordable home ownership programs, families can make no more than 60 percent of the median income for the Austin-San Marcos region.
1 household member: $30,708 maximum income
2 household members: $35,160 maximum income
3 household members: $39,540 maximum income
4 household members: $43,920 maximum income
5 household members: $47,460 maximum income
6 household members: $51,000 maximum income
November 13, 2013
After more than a decade sharing a small trailer with his mother, Manuel Vielma and his wife, Maricela, decided it was time to move their three kids out of hardscrabble Rancho Vista, the sprawling Guadalupe County neighborhood on San Marcos’ eastern edge.
They figured they had a decent shot at finding a home they could afford, even if it was something humble, even if it required a little work, or a lot of it. Manuel has held down a steady job in the city’s wastewater department for 8½ years, and the couple has managed to stay out of major debt and even save a little when possible.
They soon discovered their dream of home ownership was out of reach, anyway.
“We looked at two or three places that we thought we could fix up and make a home. But it was just impossible. I thought we had pretty good credit but even with just a few little things, no one would loan us the money,” Manuel Vielma said.
Late last year, the couple heard that Habitat for Humanity San Marcos was looking for a family to help build its newest project, the fifth and final house in the 1500 block of Belvin Street. The Vielmas put in an application and were approved.
Using $70,000 in federal grant money allocated by the San Marcos City Council in 2007, Habitat San Marcos bought a little more than an acre of wooded property on Belvin. In the years since, the organization has transformed a condemned, ramshackle trailer park into a row of charming Craftsman-style cottages, each occupied by a family that probably could not otherwise afford to own a house.
After putting in more than their mandatory 200 hours of “sweat equity” building their house alongside volunteers, the Vielmas will officially take the keys to the cheery, cream-colored house during a ceremony on Saturday. Manuel Vielma says his family can’t wait to move in, especially 4-year-old Gabby.
“Every day when we pick her up from school, she wants to drive by the house just to see it,” Manuel said.
In addition to dedicating the Vielma home, the ceremony this weekend will mark completion of the final house constructed under the leadership of longtime Habitat San Marcos board president Glenn Wier, who took the helm of the organization in 2007 from former president Ronda A. Reagan. Under his administration, the organization has built eight homes, a number that grows by at least one a year and sometimes two. In the process, Habitat San Marcos has revitalized pockets of the Westover, Dunbar and Millview East neighborhoods.
While mortgage lenders are slowly easing up a bit on credit and down payment requirements, the Vielmas are far from the only working family who cannot qualify for a conventional home loan from financial institutions still smarting from the calamitous real estate bust of 2008. Even government agencies like the Federal Housing Administration, which insures higher-risk mortgages for often first-time homeowners, have tightened down considerably on the loans they are willing to underwrite.
In September, homebuyers who landed bank loans had an an average FICO score of 758 (out of a possible 850) compared to an average of 762 in September 2012, according to an analysis by Ellie Mae, a California mortgage software company. That is a measurable improvement, but not too much help for the majority of Texans who, as of Nov. 1, have an average FICO score of 624.
Habitat for Humanity does not give away houses, incoming board president Phil Hutchinson is quick to say, but it does offer no-interest, 20-year loans to qualifying, low-income people.
“If you haven’t been taking care of your credit rating or building a solid work history, you’re not going to qualify for Habitat,” Hutchinson said. “But it’s a good opportunity for families that have been working toward home ownership but have a credit rating that is not quite good enough for conventional financing.”
In addition to sweet credit terms, Habitat San Marcos sells its houses at a fraction of their value on the open market, something it can do because of thousands of donated labor hours from laymen and professionals alike. A crew of professionals that include homebuilder Tom Taber of Vista Homes, construction foreman Larry Brotzman and architect Pax Chagnon, allow Habitat to build inviting houses at minimal cost. Donated and discounted construction material from local suppliers help, too.
“Hundreds of volunteers worked on this home for the past eight months,” Wier said.
With its Belvin Street property fully built out, Habitat San Marcos is now looking for lots on which to build its next homes. It will be helped again in the property purchase by the city’s Community Development Block Grant program, which last year put up another $32,000 to acquire land.
March 16, 2012
Esther Williams Henk, a familiar face waiting tables at Cafe on the Square for years, will receive the keys to her new home during a dedication of the Habit for Humanity project 2 p.m. Sunday.
Henk will be joined by husband Cassidy Henk, a U.S. Army soldier currently stationed in Iraq, and their two children, 14-year-old Kedric and 12-year-old Debra. The ceremony was planned so Cassidy Henk could attend while home on leave.
“Hundreds of volunteers worked on this home for the past six months,” said Glenn Wier, San Marcos Habitat’s board chair. Esther and her children worked alongside volunteers on weekends for the last six months as part of the program’s “sweat equity” requirement.
The Henks residence at 1528 Belvin St. is the third home built on the site of a former trailer park bought by the local Habitat chapter with a city grant. Foundations for two more homes were recently poured and volunteers are working most Saturdays framing them.
For information on Habitat for Humanity, the national charity made famous by former President Jimmy Carter, visit the local group’s website here.
April 21, 2008
San Marcos Habitat for Humanity is preparing for future home construction on the site of a former mobile home park shut down by city inspectors about a year and a half ago.
Until January 2007, the Belvin Street Mobile Home Park occupied three city lots totaling about five acres in the Westover neighborhood. Habitat for Humanity later bought the property from Martindale resident Bill Hoch and is preparing to build homes for low-income families as part of its non-profit qualified assistance program.
City council members in recent weeks agreed to abandon a swath right-of-way through the property dedicated in 1910 as Henry Street but never built.
The property was one of two mobile home parks off Hopkins Street that fell under the scrutiny of city inspectors in 2006, racking up dozens of health and safety code violations, according to public records. A dozen trailers at the nearby Chaparral mobile home park and one at Belvin were condemned and ordered removed. Other trailers had dangerous wiring, leaky sewer connections and both parks, the reports state, were infested with flies and insects attracted by animal fecal matter.
Facing fines of up to $2,000 per violation a day, Chapparal’s owner, Jimmy Umstattd of Austin, decided to shut his trailer park down later that year and redevelop the property, then-Interim City Attorney Andy Quittner said at the time. The Belvin Street park was closed shortly thereafter.
The property sits down the street from another Habitat project dedicated late last year. San Marcos Habitat for Humanity has built ten homes since 1997.