Story and photos by Jeff Keeling
As he stood at the doorway of his completely rebuilt home on Bettie Street Sunday afternoon, James Hammett put first things first.
“If it wasn’t for the good Lord, I don’t know where I’d be standing, but I just want to thank everyone for what they’ve done,” said Hammett to representatives from Central Baptist Church, Appalachia Service Project and the City of Johnson City. All three groups had partnered to demolish the substandard home where Hammett had lived since 1981 and replace it with a brand new, three-bedroom dwelling, complete with furnishings compliments of the church.
The home is one of 10 new houses ASP is building around Washington County as part of “New Build Northeast Tennessee,” a project begun earlier this year.
The 10-home project leverages four major sources. The Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati has provided a $236,000 grant. ASP partners with churches and other volunteer groups for as much free labor as possible on each project. Vendors and suppliers provide materials at prices ranging from discounted to free. General contractors and ASP staff oversee each project, and subcontractors also do their part, often at a discount.
When all is said and done, hard costs have usually run about $35,000, much of it covered by the grant, and volunteers have eliminated the difference. Johnson City Community Development Director Steve Baldwin was happy to cast his lot in with the program when he heard about it, and this is the first project inside the city.
“It was a no-brainer to partner with them,” said Baldwin, who put community redevelopment funds toward the completion. “They’re bringing the majority of the money to the table, and I can get in these homes for about $12,500 each, which will allow us to do four or five times the number we’ve been doing.
“I’m glad we’re getting faith-based congregations involved.”
Crouch told those gathered Sunday that what is happening in Johnson City and Washington County with New Build is something ASP leaders and others envisioned in the wake of the Dry Creek floods of 2012.
“We figured if we got all the labels out of the way, all this is just about people helping people,” Crouch said as more than 50 people gathered at Hammett’s Bettie Street residence. “There are no churches or businesses or governments, there are just people that gather themselves around these titles, and if we get those titles out of the way, people just help people, and we all cooperate together, and this is what we get.”
With an announcement about a major grant from Appalachian Regional Commission on the near horizon – one that will help ASP build dozens of additional homes over the next several years – Crouch cast a bold vision: “We really would like to eliminate substandard housing in Washington County in about 20 years.”
They have already started, and Sunday night that meant one family – Hammett, his son Jason and granddaughter Samantha – was benefiting in ways they wouldn’t have imagined when the year began.