Home Makeover 

Nonprofit group looks to remodel abandoned homes and sell them to low-income families.

Nonprofit group Helping Humanity has big plans for living up to its name.

The group plans to take a few homes off the Shelby County Land Bank's hands, remodel them by hiring homeless people to do the labor, and sell them to low-income families.

Helping Humanity is launching a fund drive to raise $800,000 to tackle their first 16 homes, ranging in size from 750 square feet to 1,500 square feet. They're also hoping some grant funding will help pay for the project.

"We plan to hire homeless people and underemployed people to do the demolition work. We'll pay them $13 an hour and give them insurance, and they get to learn a trade," said Helping Humanity executive director Jack Armstrong, who founded the group after working with homeless people through Occupy Memphis.

Armstrong said most of the homes will need to be demolished down to the studs. The floors will be taken out, and new wiring and insulation will be put in before a new floor and sheetrock are installed.

Once the homes are done, Armstrong said Helping Humanity will be selling them at low rates to families in need. The group will help families with bad credit at certain banks to get financing. Since most of the homes have several rooms, Armstrong said they are limiting sales to families with children. The goal is to have people moving into the homes by December or January of next year.

"The 16 homes will house 16 families, which is 4 percent of what the mayor wants to do with supportive housing. He wants to have 391 units ready in the next 10 years," Armstrong said, referring to Mayor A C Wharton's 10-year plan to end homelessness.

Once those homes are remodeled and sold, Armstrong's group plans to begin buying apartments through the land bank, which usually obtains property when owners become delinquent on their taxes, to be renovated and rented or sold as condos to single, low-income people.

"We will be lowering unemployment, lowering homelessness, and building a new tax base because these [homeless] people will be working and they can buy food and clothing," Armstrong said.

When Helping Humanity was founded last year, Armstrong's first goal was to create a women's homeless shelter. While there are hundreds of beds for homeless men in Memphis, there is a much smaller number of beds for females.

"Eventually, we'll get back to the focus of getting a Midtown women's center set up, so more women can have housing," Armstrong said. "These houses came along, so we're first focusing on getting people into them."

Another long-term goal for the organization is the creation of a tent city to provide temporary housing for the homeless. Modeled after the Dignity Village in Portland, Humanity Village would feature two-person tents surrounding a central building with bathrooms, a kitchen, a dining area, and a common room. Armstrong said he hopes to obtain land for the project through the land bank once Helping Humanity gets a few other projects under its belt.

To learn more about donating to Helping Humanity's home remodeling project, go to helping-humanity.org.

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