Building a future: Habitat for Humanity turns 30

Hard at work: Habitat for Humanity volunteers building one of 242 homes the nonprofit has constructed in its 30 years. Photo courtesy Habitat for Humanity

When Lew Kraus helped build Habitat for Humanity's first house in the Asheville area three decades ago, it took his team of volunteers 18 months.

These days, “We can do 24 new houses in 18 months,” says Kraus, the local chapter's longtime executive director. “That's how much we've learned, how much things have changed.”

The longest-serving Habitat chapter director in the country, he’s headed up the local organization since 1998. Since its founding, the Asheville group has created homes for 242 families and helped more than 1,000 people. Last year alone, more than 2,000 area residents volunteered, helping build new houses and repair old ones.

The chapter marked its 30th anniversary with a Feb. 11 ceremony at its Meadow Road offices. Throughout 2013, the group will highlight some of the families it’s helped; a larger event is planned for the fall.

In the early years, trying to house needy local families proved slow going, due to budgetary constraints and a lack of community awareness. But in 1990 the ReStore opened, helping give the nonprofit a higher profile and more secure revenue. In 2003 the store, which sells donated furniture, construction materials and other items, moved to its current Meadow Road location. That enabled the nonprofit to double its home production; today, the ReStore has the third-highest sales among the 750 such businesses Habitat runs nationwide, the nonprofit reports.

Even more central to the local chapter’s growth, however, is local support, Kraus maintains. “This community has really gotten behind us,” he reports. “They've volunteered, they've donated to us, they've donated land. We're only as good as our community.”

Recipients of Habitat homes typically work on other people’s houses before getting their own, providing “sweat equity” in addition to their monthly loan payments.

But it’s not just about roof trusses and floor joists, notes Kraus: He’s seen lives change because of the secure housing Habitat provided.

“They say, 'My child is the first in our family's history to go to college,'” he reveals. “Grades improve, health improves. The human side of this can't be overemphasized.”

Unfortunately, adds Kraus, “We're in a growth industry.” The economic downturn hit a lot of local families hard, leaving many wondering how to keep a roof over their heads.

Long term, however, “I'd like to see us out of business,” he says with a chuckle. “Because that would mean we've provided housing for everyone in this community.

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore (31 Meadow Road) is open Mon. to Sat., 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For details, visit restore@ashevillehabitat.org.

David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or at dforbes@mountainx.com.

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