Church habitat build planned this summer 

Religiously Speaking 3.23.17

With its regulations eased for church groups wishing to construct Habitat for Humanity homes, plans are under way for a new Apostles Build project to house a working grandmother and the two grandchildren she’s rearing in Southwest Roanoke.

The date of April 22, a Saturday, has been set as the time to raise the first wall of the two-story Cape Cod-style house at 502 Seventeenth St. SW. The new house will replace a dilapidated structure, which had to be torn down, and is near the Schaeffer’s Crossing railway shops in West End Roanoke.

Representatives of Salem Area Ecumenical Ministries (SAEM) learned about the plans from Jenny Lee, director of development, at the March meeting at College Lutheran Church. At least two Salem congregations, Presbyterian and Episcopal, have indicated that they will support the project with volunteers.  It is hoped that the house can be occupied by Aug. 19.

When it’s finished, Lorraine Jordan, 52, will be able to have a three-bedroom home for herself and her two grandchildren, Anthony and Jasmine, with whom she has occupied a small apartment after having to live in cramped quarters with relatives after an illness several years ago, forced her inability to work as a cook and baker; she had been employed at local hotels and Roanoke College for over 31 years.

Now receiving disability, she is attending Virginia Western Community College and on her way to receiving a degree in psychology aimed at helping substance abusers.

Addressing the SAEM leaders, Lee pointed out that Jordan is an example of an adult qualified to live in a Habitat home. She stressed that the program is “not a government hand out” but is for households where there is an adult with regular income who can afford a relatively small mortgage payment where no interest is charged but the debt can be regularly discharged. Nearly all are, she said.

Persons eligible to receive such a house must also show need for safer and more adequate space –getting children out of a high-crime neighborhood, for instance, or a shack with a leaking roof.  Finally, they must be willing to do some work themselves called “sweat equity.”  Doing this, Lee noted, is made as easy as possible where physical strength is limited. One disabled Salem man was able to fulfill his “equity” by doing needed paperwork, she said.

The summer project is known as an Apostles Build because it is intended for church people to work together as in early Christian times.  Since 2014, Lee noted, the necessary 12 congregations have not materialized because formerly a contribution of $5,000 was required from each participating congregation. It costs an estimated $130,000 to erect a house.

“We (Habitat’s local leadership) decided to reduce the minimum to $50 and helping with some of the work because a lot of smaller churches just couldn’t spare that much, “Lee said.

For those who have no building skills, Habitat promoters emphasize that help can be given in providing lunch for the workers, in cleaning up and in many other simple but necessary tasks.  Those wanting to be part of the ministry can call Lee at (540)-344-0747 or contact at

Lee also told the SAEM leaders that Habitat’s plan of action in a community has changed over the 31 years since the Georgia-based ministry was established in Roanoke. For its first two decades, the simple but serviceable houses were built anywhere in the city that a plot of land became available. The new dwellings in the older areas did not look like the houses put up in Roanoke 125 years ago.

In 2010 it was decided that concentration would be in a specific area of the city such as the West End with its many handsome but neglected houses. Many of these dwellings under guidance of Habitat staff have now been upgraded with resulting pride of ownership that has even reduced crime, Lee said.

Moving west in the valley, work is now being done in the Melrose Northwest multi-cultural, low-income neighborhoods, Lee pointed out.  Though work in Salem has been limited, the east side of the city may eventually lend itself to some improvements, she said.

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