Options for affordable housing in Aiken; family helps to break ground on new home

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AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF) — Affordable housing is a challenge the City of Aiken is looking to find solutions for. Habitat for Humanity to making the burden less stressful for families by providing a house to some who really need one.

“It’s kinda emotional for me because I wanted to own my own home,” future homeowner Santana Gonzalez told NewsChannel 6’s Aiken Bureau Shawn Cabbagestalk.

That emotion turned into tears of remembrance for Gonzalez of things from her childhood. “A place of my own really means a lot. As a kid moving around a lot — that was kind of difficult,” she added emotionally.

Now she and her daughter now will have a home of their own, thanks to several organizations including the Aiken County Habitat for Humanity. The organization broke ground on their 132nd home, Gonzalez’ home, on Wednesday, September 15. “We make it affordable mortgage just to where it’s something they can afford,” interim executive director of the Aiken County Habitat for Humanity Arie Murphy said.

“Right now with real estate going up and minimum wage, not where it should be at. It’s hard for a single mother to actually put a down payment for their own house and building your credit habitat has helped me with building my credit so I can do the whole mortgage and own my own home,” Gonzalez added.

The organization partners with others to help others achieve what some say is the American dream — owning a home.

“My gosh, we are just so excited and thrilled to be able to support, Santana in her path to homeownership. This is just another milestone that she has achieved in her journey and we’re thrilled to be here and celebrate with her,” market executive for Bank of America Marissa Smith said.

“I think this is great. When you see monies and funds and people coming together to be able to get somebody in a home, especially in the climate that we’re living in now, this is absolutely an awesome, awesome situation.” Project Manager at Savannah River Nuclear Solutions and Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity Shawna Lloyd said.

There are limited spots for the number of applicants who apply. The whole process can take 12 to 18 months. There are several things that he or she has to do.

Need for Adequate Housing
What constitutes need varies among households. The need criteria may consist of one or more of the following: overcrowding, safety, functionality of current living situation, disabilities that are not being accommodated in current living situation, crime in the neighborhood, cost burden or inability to qualify for conventional financing.

Ability to Pay the Habitat Mortgage
Habitat’s Homeowner Program serves those who may not obtain safe, affordable housing through conventional lending. The program has set income parameters that limit the total household income to be eligible for a Habitat House. To become a Habitat homebuyer, the household income must fall between 30% to 60% of the HUD area median income for Aiken County. The AMI limit applies to the total income based on household size. Household income is defined as all funds legally received on a regular schedule by all household members from sources. Click here to visit the HUD User Income Limits Documentation System.

Ability to pay the Habitat mortgage is determined on the total income of the applicant and/or co-applicant.

Willingness to Partner
An applicant must demonstrate their willingness to partner with Habitat by completing all required sweat equity hours, saving required down payment, attending required financial counseling sessions and complying with conditions of the partnership agreement.

“There is a great need [for affordable housing] in Aiken,” Murphy said. “I would love for habitat to get to the point to where we can do more than three or four homes a year,” she added. Homes are built by volunteers. So it takes a group of volunteers and unfortunately, I hate to even bring it up, but the pandemic has kind of hurt us, would have in big groups on our construction site due to safety reasons,” she said.

Folks who receive a habitat home get to the color of the siding of their home. They get to choose their kitchen cabinet colors, their kitchen, counter colors, and flooring. Lighting for the homes as well as ceiling fans in the living room and the bedrooms. They even are provided a brand new range and refrigerator with a manufacturer’s warranty on it.

For the next round of applications, officials hope to choose between 6 to 10 applicants. “We do however many houses we plan to build,” Murphy said. “Plus we do a few extra in case something happened that one has to fall out of the program. Habitat usually builds three to four houses a year,” she added.

As for Gonzalez, she looking forward to the construction instead of decorating. “Because it’s manual labor and I’m better with my hands than I am with a lot of other things.”

Meanwhile, recently a study was conducted for a number of stakeholders in Aiken expressing the need for more affordable housing in the area. City leaders say they are working with the housing authority on a plan that to get that done — including using the now-abandoned Hahn village property. “We hope to take that 19 and a half acres there and work with the housing authority to create housing opportunities and affordable housing there,” Economic Development Director Tim O’Briant said. “We’re essentially working through the process of identifying the best neighborhoods and places and available parcels to create that housing now,” O’Briant added.

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