Story and photos by Jeff Keeling
A light drizzle fell outside Saturday as Edna Price sat, smiling, in the bright, sparkling living room of the new home she shares with her mother Mandy. Even in the overcast, light through the plentiful windows and open door was enough to provide contrast with the older, single-wide mobile home 30 feet away.
There, Mandy Price had been essentially trapped by the home’s lack of accessibility, which kept her homebound due to leg problems. But in just four months, Appalachia Service Project and a host of private partners had built the Prices this new home on Kings Mountain Court off of Greenwood Drive, less than two miles west of East Tennessee State University.
“It’s still kind of sinking in,” said Edna, who had moved in about two weeks earlier. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get used to it.”
They’ll be happy to try, though. With its new heat pump, attractive wood flooring and quality construction, the home is a far cry from the trailer, where the pipes froze multiple times last winter and the wall and floor heaters struggled to ward off the chill. And it’s an even further contrast with the four-room, wood-heated house without indoor plumbing that the pair, with Mandy’s late husband, moved into on the property in the late 1950s.
It was on the spot that house once sat that ASP and its partners from the private sector and faith communities built the new home. Several of the players celebrated with the Prices Saturday, including members of Boone Trail Baptist Church, whose youth group kicked off the process in May by demolishing the remains of the old home.
The Prices’ is the second of 10 new homes ASP is building around Washington County as part of “New Build Northeast Tennessee,” ASP CEO Walter Crouch said. A third, north of Jonesborough, should be complete within a month or so.
Birthed in the wake of Dry Creek’s devastating 2012 floods, New Build is a departure from ASP’s standard mission repairing and renovating substandard houses through five Appalachian states.
“I like this better,” Crouch said. “It fits who we are better and is much more missional.”
Faced with a denial of federal emergency funding in 2012, the community responded, ith ASP, private contractors, vendors, churches and citizens parlaying a can-do attitude into the construction of dozens of new homes for Dry Creek flood victims.
“It’s interesting how a Dry Creek tragedy could then turn into a new program for Appalachia Service Project,” Crouch said Saturday.
Washington County Mayor Dan Eldridge, a member at Boone Trail, said the Dry Creek recovery is complete but the positive ripple effects are expanding.
“I love seeing how the Lord uses circumstances like the flood to bring about miraculous opportunities,” Eldridge said.
Crouch outlined the details for News and Neighbor, including opportunities presented by a yet-to-be-announced grant.
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, at least in the Price’s case, no one has borrowed anything, hard costs have run about $35,000, much of it covered by the grant, and volunteers have eliminated the difference. “They’re in free and clear and we owe nothing,” Crouch said, adding that the 900-plus-square-foot home has an appraised value of about $70,000.
“This could change things in Washington County,” Eldridge said. “If we can develop this to the extent that I believe we all think it can be developed, we have a very legitimate opportunity to really start to address substandard housing in this community.”
Crouch said ASP already has in the pipeline – with details still pending – a program that will be utilize a $500,000 grant as seed money for construction of 60 new homes over five years, in nine East Tennessee counties. The projects will have to be in low-income “distressed” census tracts.
Under its standard model, ASP would have worked to renovate the Prices’ mobile home so that Mindy could get in and out. Crouch said many of ASP’s clients occupy homes in such poor condition that adding accessibility and livability features still tends to feel like it’s not enough.
“I would love to travel around our five states and say ‘your house is so far gone, what if we could build you a new home?’ We’ve never been able to do that, but now locally we’re seeing if we can do this and where we can do this.”
The new method has received national attention, and the Tennessee Housing Development Agency modeled a new program of its own after it, having seen the success in Dry Creek. Crouch said that elicited a telling comment from former George H.W. Bush speechwriter and non-profit lobbyist Mark McIntyre.
“He said in his 30 years of public service it was the first time he had seen a public agency follow the lead of a non-profit rather than the other way around. You can leverage the tax dollars much further. Our model is, we’ll take that small amount of money and leverage it and let our donors and churches and other people come up with the rest of the money.”