Habitat completes another neighborhood; look to the future

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Volunteers lift framing in June 2019 for a Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity home sponsored by Bank7. The home is one of 146 in the now-completed Stephen Florentz Legacy Estates addition in northwest Oklahoma City. (Courtesy Photo/COHFH)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity dedicated the final home of its third subdivision on Friday and focused on its next and biggest development.

Known as a nonprofit that provides a pathway to homeownership for hard-working Oklahomans, COHFH is also a major homebuilder that builds 45-50 homes each year in the Oklahoma City metro area. .

CEO and President Ann Felton Gilliland said COHFH ranks seventh among Habitat for Humanity’s 1,100 active U.S. affiliates building affordable homes people can buy with interest-free mortgage payments.

Friday’s dedication was the latest in the addition of 146 Stephen Florentz Legacy Estates homes near Wilshire Boulevard and Council Road. The neighborhood took seven years to complete at a cost of approximately $22 million.

Sonja Potts, director of operations, said Habitat is able to build homes for less than traditional construction companies through donations and volunteer labor.

The newly completed neighborhood will bring in about $300,000 in property taxes each year, Potts said.

The 146th house was built in memory of Gilliland’s late husband, Bob Gilliland, the association’s attorney. Like many Habitat homes, it is now home to a single mother and her children, Gilliland said.

“They are perfectly capable of making the payments and the maintenance of the house, but it is very difficult for them to come up with the down payment,” she said. Habitat allows buyers to invest in building a home instead of a down payment.

Habitat has built 1,056 homes and has 250 in two other neighborhoods – Hope Crossing, NE 78th Street and Kelley Avenue, and Faith Landing, SW 59th Street and County Line Road.

Gilliland is already considering the 450-home development planned for 160 acres they purchased at NW 150th and Morgan Road.

“This is a crisis situation in our community. There just isn’t affordable housing,” she said.

From 2000 to 2019, housing prices and rental rates in Oklahoma City rose faster than incomes, increasing the affordability gap, according to the 2021 Housing Affordability Study prepared by Economic & Planning Systems. Inc.

The National Association of Realtors reports that one-third of home sales in Oklahoma go to first-time buyers. Polls show nearly 70% said affordability was their biggest obstacle, including the ability to save for a down payment.

Habitat for Humanity leaders nationwide are struggling, like all homebuilders, to deal with pandemic issues.

Local affiliates have had to limit volunteers due to virus concerns, forcing them to spend more money hiring contractors. Revenues declined due to temporary closures of ReStores, reuse stores operated by local Habitat organizations. Supply chain issues have caused construction delays. Added to this is the soaring construction costs. Lumber prices, according to the National Association of Home Builders, have risen more than 300% since April 2020.

Gilliland said COHFH had built fewer homes in each of the past two years, about 35 instead of 50.

“With the costs of wood and concrete, it was difficult,” she says. “But thanks to good partners, we managed to keep up.”

The two ReStore locations brought in $500,000 last year, which went into construction.

Sometimes a company will provide full sponsorship, but every donation counts and is appreciated, Gilliland said.

They run the gamut from the sophomore class who raised $300 to buy all the doorknobs in a house as a gift from Stephen Florentz, the late U.S. Army war veteran and US Army surgical tech. ‘Veterans Administration for whom the addition of Legacy Estates is named.

Gilliland said she met Florentz in the late 1990s and never heard from him again. After his death in 2016, she learned that he left COHFH $2.25 million. It remains the largest donation received in the nonprofit’s 35-year history. His donation built 24 of the development’s 146 homes.

The addition also includes a gazebo, park and walking trails, all made possible through donations from donors.

Over the years, the nonprofit has also built hundreds of homes on single lots, but Gilliland likes to develop entire neighborhoods of Habitat homeowners.

“We can create a very safe and secure neighborhood ourselves and put a park and sidewalks in everyone,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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