This month, Bert Green is stepping down as CEO of Charlotte Habitat for Humanity and, instead, will serve as director of strategic initiatives, a newly created position.
Green, 63, was named CEO of Habitat Charlotte in 1993 after serving on its board of directors for five years.
The new CEO, Frank Spencer, the former chief executive for Charlotte-based Cogdell Spencer, will take over May 29. Spencer, who retired from Cogdell Spencer in 2010, is the fourth CEO of Charlotte Habitat, which has been around for 29 years.
Green, who will report to Spencer, spoke with us about his new job, how the recession affected the organization and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for Habitat homes.
What will you be doing in your new role? Primarily education and advocacy, fundraising. I’ll be the liaison to North Carolina Habitat and the Metrolina Partnership, plus work on government relations with the city and state and in D.C. and anything the new executive director asks me to do.
How many homes are you building a year now? Actually, we no longer look so much at the number of homes we build, but rather at the number of families we touch. We consider ourselves more of a community developer. We not only build new homes but buy and rehab foreclosed homes and perform repairs and weatherizing on existing homes to keep them safe and affordable.
We’re on track to build 101 homes this (fiscal) year (which ends June 30) and complete 58 weatherization projects. We also build homes in El Salvador each year. And we are the (interest-free) mortgage holder for several hundred Habitat homeowners. So we probably touch about 100 families each year. I’d like us to serve more families.
Sustainable building has become more important, hasn’t it? Every house we build is now certified by LEED. It is one thing to build an affordable home, but it also matters what you pay each month. It costs about $1,000 more to build a LEED house, and the biggest piece of that is the certification process itself. A good chuck of the money goes to that.
But homeowners save about 25 to 35 percent on heating and cooling when we build a certified house. We seal it up, insulate the dickens out of it and install energy-efficient windows and HVAC. We guarantee to our homeowners that if their bill exceeds $35 a month for a 1,100-square-foot house, we will pay the difference.
Have there been any other changes in the way you build homes? About 10 years ago, we changed the design to a craftsman style so they would blend in better with the surrounding neighborhood. For example, they have shakes, larger front porches and wider trim.
Are you able to get houses built solely on volunteer labor? You can’t. There are a number of things involved in building a house that must be done by licensed individuals. So we use paid contractors for plumbing, HVAC and electrical work, as well as for masonry and carpet installation. They do a great job and keep us on schedule.
Most of the work is still done by volunteers. Once a house’s foundation is built, they come in and frame the house, put on the roof and shingles, install windows and doors and add the siding and exterior trim. They also do the landscaping, Sheetrock and painting. We have volunteer attorneys do the closings.
How has the recession affected Habitat? Donations dropped, like they did for all nonprofits, as the need increased. One casualty of the housing bubble bursting was that people who marginally qualified for a home were foreclosed on, so they were back looking for housing.
However, at the same time, the federal government introduced the Neighborhood Stabilization Program that enabled us to buy foreclosed properties. We did that in partnership with city and state agencies, the Charlotte-(Mecklenburg) Housing Partnership and the Self Help Credit Union, focusing on the Windy Ridge and Peachtree Hills neighborhoods.
Foreclosures are still a great opportunity for us and our homeowners. There are thousands of foreclosures a year in Mecklenburg. And by doing rehabs, we can serve lower-income people. We raised $2 million just for these kinds of projects.
Tell me about ReStore, where you sell donated building materials, furniture and appliances.There are two stores: the original one, on Wilkinson Boulevard, that opened in 1996, and the one on Wendover Road that opened six years ago.
Since we opened the first ReStore, we have brought in enough revenues to build 73 homes. Our goal is to have five or six stores.
We are also quite a recycler of used building materials and appliances.This past year we recycled 794 tons of appliances. We want to landfill as little as possible.
Isn’t the Charlotte affiliate merging with other affiliates? The Habitat Metrolina Partnership is not a merger but, rather, a consolidation of service delivery, such as back-office functions, fundraising, purchasing and advertising. It’s a way of doing more with the resources we have. There are seven other affiliates involved: those in Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell and Lincoln counties, as well as the Catawba Valley, Matthews and Lake Norman affiliates.