Dirt gets moved for 69-house Habitat for Humanity neighborhood in southwest Bloomington: “Hope” is the thing…

On Monday afternoon, Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County’s board chair Meredith Rogers addressed a gathering of about 50 people for a ceremonial groundbreaking at Osage Place.

It’s a 69-house project just east of RCA Community Park, which is getting built in two phases.

At Monday’s event, held at the western stub of Guy Avenue where the pavement ends, it was evident from the mounds of dirt and the deep gravel, that the first phase of construction is already underway. The infrastructure is being put in place for the extensions of some east-west street stubs.

Rogers framed her remarks by talking about hope. “Creating the hope of a better future for our partner families is what Habitat for Humanity is all about,” Rogers said.

Habitat houses are built with volunteer labor and tax-deductible donations of money and materials. The houses are then sold to low-income families who make between 25 and 80 percent of the area median income (AMI).

Rogers continued, “Habitat provides that feeling of expectation or desire of a decent affordable place to call home.”

For Rogers, Monday’s groundbreaking was not the time to stop, but to continue hoping.

Rogers said, “There is still so much work to be done. The need for affordable housing is greater than ever.” Rogers added, “Habitat needs your help to continue creating the hope of a better future for our partner families.”

She wrapped up with four lines from Emily Dickenson: “Hope” is the thing with feathers – / That perches in the soul – / And sings the tune without the words – / And never stops – at all.

Besides hope, another common theme for the afternoon’s remarks was cooperation. How can the affordable housing crisis be solved? Rogers put it this way: “The answer is simple: Together.”

In addition to private donors, the city and county governments made contributions to the project. The city of Bloomington paid for $800,000 of the infrastructure improvements. Monroe County commissioners donated 4.2 acres of the county’s land.

Bloomington city council’s role was its approval of the special planned unit development (PUD) zoning.

The site that got rezoned measures about 12.5 acres. The approval changed the basic zoning of the property from R2 to a modified version of R4. The reason for the zoning request was based on the small lot sizes that Habitat is using for the development, which are between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet. The minimum lot size for an R2-zoned lot is 7,200 square feet. The minimum for R4 is 4,000 square feet.

According to the planning staff report at the time, among the city’s goals that the project would help to achieve are: owner-occupied housing near a major employment center; housing near community parks (RCA Community Park and Switchyard Park); and family housing near other existing single-family housing.

The first phase of the project is supposed to include about 30 houses. The second phase of the project will start in 2023.

With the Osage Place project now moving ahead, The B Square asked Habitat president and CEO Wendi Goodlett after Monday’s groundbreaking what’s next for Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County.

Goodlett said, “The challenges that we face right now are land availability, land affordability, and construction costs.” She added, “Construction costs are astronomical right now.” Building another Habitat neighborhood “may or may not be a reality,” she said, but it’s something they’re looking at.

But new construction is not the only possibility Habitat is considering. Goodlett said: “We’re also exploring what are other ways that we can serve. We may have other things we can do—repairing houses. If owners meet our income guidelines, we would love to help them repair their homes so that they can stay there.”

Supporting people with home repairs as they “age in place” is another angle on alternatives to new construction. About aging in place, Goodlett said, “We’ve had some preliminary conversations with Area 10 Agency on Aging to see if there are some synergies there that we can help people age in place—because we have volunteers and the skill set, and they have the clients.”

Goodlett said she thinks Habitat’s lines of communication with county and city government are now better than it has ever had.

For Goodlett, collaboration was the key takeaway from Monday’s groundbreaking. She told The B Square: “This is what can happen when we work together. And that requires a lot of people coming to the table with an open mind.”