And, in the big picture it will lead to the construction of even more Habitat homes, according to Matt Carlson, executive director of the local Habitat affiliate.
“We’re excited to see the Bradley County Commission support us in helping build homes in the local community,” Carlson said. “This is another great example of the whole community partnering together to help those less fortunate.”
Such favorable government decisions are also a boost to Habitat’s ability to recruit new volunteers and additional support for the construction of more homes that will be purchased by local homeowners who are then added to the county property tax rolls.
“As more organizations get involved and collaborate, the more homes we can build,” Carlson stressed. “More families are helped and local neighborhoods are strengthened in the local community.”
The County Commission’s favorable vote came at a good time as the Cleveland Habitat affiliate is in the middle of filling its Century Village subdivision on 20th Street. A second subdivision on South Lee Highway, named Stone Gate, is also under way, though the organization’s focus will remain on Century Village for the next couple of years. Carlson said plans are to complete the 20th Street development, which is adjacent to Blythe-Bower Elementary School, by sometime in 2013.
Once completed, Century Village will contain 40 or more Habitat for Humanity houses.
Carlson pointed out the tax-exempt status is granted on houses and property still owned by Habitat. Once they are officially sold to new homeowners, the tax exemption is removed.
“The tax exemption is not for the families but for Habitat while we are building the homes,” Carlson said. “We just want to make sure the public, and future Habitat homeowners, understand this. The property would only be exempt from taxes for a certain period of time after we purchase the property. Once the home is completed, homeowners will pay taxes on the property.”
It’s a win-win-win agreement, Carlson noted.
First, it provides an incentive for Habitat to purchase vacant or unused land, or even rundown housing that can be bulldozed to the ground and replaced with new houses.
Second, it saves Habitat for Humanity money in property taxes. These savings can then go toward the purchase of more neglected or unused land for the purpose of building more quality, affordable houses for Cleveland and Bradley County families.
Third, it increases the number of Habitat homes available to deserving families who are willing to provide sweat equity hours by helping to build the houses and assisting in the construction of other Habitat houses. Living in Habitat homes helps low-income families to better understand the responsibilities of home ownership and upkeep, Carlson said.
“More than 90 percent of our homeowners have never paid property taxes before,” the Habitat leader explained. “By moving through the program homeowners become taxpayers. Since 1990, Habitat has built 79 homes and added almost $2 million to the local tax base.”
He added, “Homeowners who have purchased homes from Habitat for Humanity now contribute almost $35,000 in county taxes per year. This is something that we (Habitat for Humanity) and our homeowners are very proud of.”
Habitat for Humanity families apply for housing and complete a series of interviews before being selected. Once chosen, they are required to complete detailed training that better familiarizes them with budgeting, residential upkeep and other responsibilities related to homeownership. Buyers purchase Habitat houses with interest-free financing.
“Many of the properties we build on are vacant land and/or have dilapidated homes on them,” Carlson said. “These homes are torn down to build new Energy Star efficient homes which help to enhance the surrounding neighborhood and raises property values.”
County commissioners’ nod to Habitat’s tax-exempt status signals their support of the organization’s work and its programming format, Carlson said.
“We believe in community helping community and this approval from the Bradley County Commission is a perfect example of this philosophy,” he said.
The tax-exempt status begins at the point Habitat purchases property and carries through to the point that the house is built and sold to a new homeowner, generally about an 18-month period, Carlson said.
Habitat for Humanity homes generate $450 in county property taxes and $350 in city property taxes.
The local affiliate will build 10 new houses in 2011, all in Century Village.