Habitat and Hope Celebrate Funding Windfall

COMMUNITY

By Michelle Cassell

Two local organizations, Habitat for Humanity of Orange County and HOPE NC, were recently awarded substantial funds that will support efforts to create affordable housing in Orange County. Habitat for Humanity of Orange County received a $5 million gift May 22 from the author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.
 
HOPE NC, whose goal is to create inclusive communities housing people of all ages, races, and abilities, was awarded funding from the Cares Program at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work in partnership with NC Department of Health and Human Services Money Follows the Person (MFP) project. The organization will receive $150,000 per year for four years, with the potential for a fifth year of funding. The announcement was made May 24.
 
Both organizations are devoted to providing affordable housing in our area, where the median sale price of a home in Orange County has reached $460,000, according to realtor.com.
 
HOPE NC was started about ten years ago when two Orange County mothers who were facing extraordinary challenges trying to raise sons with developmental disabilities connected via Facebook. They embarked upon a mission to give hope to local residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities in need of affordable, accessible housing.
 
Today, HOPE NC is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization; its principal project focuses on developing a pilot community that includes individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as they transition into adulthood.
 
“Due to the critical lack of inclusive, affordable housing options for this population in our state, three families with over 30 years of personal and professional experience in the disability field founded HOPE NC in 2018 to break down the barriers that keep them from fully participating in their community,” said Orah Raia, Cofounder and Vice President of HOPE NC in her press release on Tuesday.
 
“Receiving this grant empowers HOPE NC to continue to work toward creating an inclusive community where all individuals, including those with developmental disabilities, can live meaningful and purposeful lives. We invite others who recognize the need for this to join us in our efforts,” said Dotty Foley, President of HOPE NC.
 
The impact grant, “Building Capacity for Home and Community-Based Services through Collective Impact,” will accelerate HOPE NC’s work to identify and develop opportunities to create inclusive communities where people of all ages and abilities interact. “The focus of this community will be on increasing affordable and inclusive housing,” said Raia. “HOPE NC  will be partnering with Alliance Health, Community Alternative for Supportive Abodes (CASA) and the Partnerships in Aging Program at UNC-CH. Funding for this project comes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).
 
Rob Robinson, CEO of Alliance Health, said in a May 24 press release, “This collective impact grant is the perfect opportunity for HOPE to continue advancing their vision and model. In a short time, they have galvanized the necessary multidimensional partnerships, and Alliance pledges to continue to work alongside them to add our expertise, resources, and county/state partnerships.”
 
The UNC School of Social Work, through their program CARES, selected HOPE NC and three other organizations to receive federal funding from a pool of 15 applicants. Program Director Linda Kendall Fields said, “We are very excited to select HOPE NC as one of the four grantees. They met all of the criteria and had the sustainability we were looking for.”
 
HOPE NC seeks to build communities in North Carolina that include people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), physical disabilities and older adults.  “This grassroots organization with a backbone comprising families appealed to CARES,” said Fields. According to Fields, grants were awarded in several focus areas, including affordable, accessible housing; transportation; direct support workers; and natural supports.
 
“Also, [the fact that] they addressed older adults’ needs in their inclusive community effort was key in the decision,” she said.
 
“We see this as some light at the end of a tunnel, where we can have some additional help. This grant is a planning grant,” Raia told The Local Reporter. She said it will take at least four years to actually have a community up and running. Their goal is to acquire a piece of land and be able to build a community that can be replicated.
 
HOPE NC’s website states that:
– 6.7% of individuals with intellectual/developmental disabilities in NC are living in state-run institutions compared to a national average of 1.7%;
– In a national survey, 62% of adults with developmental disabilities would like to live in their own homes;
– More than 25% of family care providers are over age 60.
 
HOPE NC is creating a “community without walls” through monthly events open to everyone. To learn more, visit HOPE NC.
 
Habitat for Humanity of Orange County’s $5 million gift comes as the organization increases the number of homes it hopes to build each year from 12 to 20. According to Jennifer Player, the organization’s president and CEO, there was no application process for this award.
 
The donor, Mackenzie Scott, signed the Giving Pledge in May 2019 and has donated more than $8.5 billion to a range of causes. Scott acquired her wealth from her partnership with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. In February 2022, Habitat for Humanity received a transformative, unrestricted donation of $436 million as a result of her philanthropy.
 
“I found out about this donation in February, but even at that time, it was highly confidential until Habitat International made a formal announcement on March 22,” said Player. “It was a hard secret to keep, but a fun one!”
 
In a May 25 interview with The Local Reporter, Player said that she feels that Habitat of Orange County appealed to Scott because of its record.  “Our affiliate has proven programs and a track record of success with innovative initiatives and strong leadership,” she said. “They looked at our Weaver Grove project, our Crescent Magnolia senior community in Hillsborough, and we were the first Habitat to do a senior homeownership community in the country.”
 
Racial inequity is an important issue for Scott, and Player believes that is one reason Scott chose to support Habitat. “We are passionate about locally providing homes to people of color who have been displaced or priced out of the homeownership market for so many years, decades and generations,” said Player.
 
According to Player, the Habitat of Orange County board has decided that none of the Mackenzie Scott gift will go towards Weavers Grove.  “The capital campaign for Weavers Grove has been going well. And we are about to wrap up our $7.5 million goal within the next 12 to 18 months. So the board felt strongly that this gift be used to inspire donors to contribute to the capital campaign and find perhaps an opportunity to build our next Weavers Grove.” Habitat for Humanity of Orange County purchased the land for Weavers Grove 20 years ago; they broke ground for the transformational community in October 2021. They predict Weavers Grove amenities will appeal to and serve a diverse homeowner base – fostering neighborly interaction, enabling healthy recreation, and supporting families as they strive for safe, stable environments for their children.
 
Habitat for Humanity of Orange County has helped over 300 local families achieve homeownership and 200 families repair existing homes in Orange County. Qualified homebuyers complete 275 hours of sweat equity and purchase the home through an affordable mortgage priced at less than 30% of the family income. To donate and volunteer, visit www.orangehabitat.org.

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