Lake Norman & Mooresville

HAMMERS program fixes homes in need

Looking around the bedroom of a Mooresville home that was converted from a shed, volunteer Justin Williams shakes his head in disbelief.

"I'm surprised they didn't freeze to death at night," he says.

Pieces of plywood had been used to cover holes in the wall. The door was not air-tight, allowing winter cold to sneak through the cracks. A water heater in the room was leaking and the floor already had started to rot.

Amid the deterioration of the former wash room were stuffed animals and colorful wallpaper. This was where a 12-year-old girl went to sleep every night.

Williams' company, JCB Urban, volunteers with the HAMMERS Program of the Davidson Housing Coalition each Christmas. The program, created in 2005, performs emergency repairs on houses that have become squalid.

"This is a real rewarding program as far as seeing how happy and appreciative they are when they see their home again," said Williams.

The Davidson Housing Coalition created the HAMMERS program - Hands Around Mecklenburg/Mooresville Making Emergency Repairs Safely - in 2005 to further its mission.

"We started the coalition because people in town were concerned that we were losing our economic and racial diversity as Davidson continued to grow," said Marcia Webster, executive director of the Davidson Housing Coalition.

Many of the homes built at that time served those with higher incomes, forcing low-income families out of Davidson, said Webster.

The coalition sought to bring affordable housing back to Davidson through rental units and affordable homes in Davidson and the HAMMERS program in the greater Lake Norman area. The nonprofit organization also provides homebuyer education and counseling sessions.

Webster said the mission of the coalition complements, rather than competes with, Our Towns Habitat for Humanity.

She said while Habitat homeowners can earn up to 60 percent of median income, those who qualify for the coalition's affordable housing can earn up to 80 percent of median income. The coalition also helps those who earn between 30 and 80 percent of area median income by finding them rental units to live in.

"Together we're able to address the problems associated with every socio-economic level," said Webster.

Webster said since its founding, the Davidson Housing Coalition has served more than 100 houses with HAMMERS and built more than 65 affordable rental and housing units.

Louise Mohamed, a Davidson resident, said she'd probably still be stuck in miserable living conditions feeling hopeless and depressed if it wasn't for the Davidson Housing Coalition.

Stuck in a marriage on the rocks, as well as having bad credit, Mohamed said she felt she didn't have the means to start life anew.

She went to the coalition for financial counseling and learned about the affordable rental units they provided. Soon after, she moved into a unit with two of her three children.

"They've been so patient and helpful. They never make you feel foolish or stupid, and they're real understanding about whatever situation you're in," said Mohamed. "I will be eternally grateful for what they've done for me."

To continue helping people like Mohamed, Webster said, the housing coalition needs a steady flow of donations from residents.

The coalition also need volunteers, skilled or not, to help with the HAMMERS program. Volunteers would help with such tasks as repairing weak floors and ceilings and building stairs.

Webster said she's often amazed at the lack of sympathy some people show to the unemployed.

"If you've never had experience with a computer you can't even apply for a job, even if you want to, because so much of that is online now," she said.

For that reason, Webster said, she'd like more volunteers who have experience with computers and who can help clients with online job applications and basic computer skills.

Still, Webster praised the coalition for all the good it already has accomplished since 1996.

"When I look back to 1996 and what we dreamed we would be after this period of time - we have so far exceeded that," she said.

"But the face of the affordable housing person has changed, especially in the last couple of years with the economy, and there are still a lot of people who need our help in the community."