August 19, 2014

Habitat to mark a new beginning, a regretful end Friday

Habitat for Humanity will be celebrating the completion of its 120th home in Horry County on Friday, and for longtime Executive Director Gail Olive, it will be a double-edged sword.

Habitat for Humanity will be celebrating the completion of its 120th home in Horry County on Friday, and for longtime Executive Director Gail Olive, it will be a double-edged sword.

While on the one hand Olive will celebrate the benchmark with others at the ceremony, on the other, she’ll know it’s her last official act with the organization.

“I’ve invested a lot of myself (in Habitat),” said Olive, who was hired in 2000 and is retiring Friday. “There hasn’t been a lot of me outside Habitat for 14 years. A piece of me is here.”

Olive has shepherded the construction of 91 of the homes in her tenure, and she has seen the business model change from one sponsor for a home to a partnership of sponsors and a grant.

“She’s taken Habitat from an Edsel to a good solid Ford,” former Habitat board president Howard Barnard joked.

Barnard has been involved with Horry County Habitat almost since The First Presbyterian Church brought it to the area in 1991. Barnard is also a member of the church, as well as the Surfside Rotary Club, which partnered with the church on one of the homes currently under construction.

The benchmark home, located in Conway, was sponsored by Bank of America, which has worked with Habitat to remodel the bank’s unsold foreclosure homes, which then became part of the Habitat legacy.

As with other nonprofits, Habitat was hit hard by the recession and funding got tougher to come by.

“We’ve gone from eight to 10 homes (a year) to probably three,” Olive said.

But the improving economy is shining on Habitat, and Olive is leaving the organization with plans for six new homes this fiscal year, four of which are already funded.

Like all its new homes, the benchmark home is three bedrooms, two baths and cost Habitat about $70,000 to build. A rehab usually runs between $15,000 and $20,000. Volunteers provide the labor.

Habitat then sells the home for 50 percent of the appraised value, or about $72,000, to a family that couldn’t have afforded a home otherwise.

Each new Habitat resident is carefully screened and must provide sweat equity in the construction of their new home. Habitat also stays with owners for financial counseling.

But not all succeed.

Olive said that in her tenure, Habitat has had to take back fewer than 10 homes, which she figures to be a decent record.

“For us, it seems like a lot,” she said. “But I think in the scheme of things, it’s not terrible.”

Loss of jobs, health issues and personal problems can overwhelm some Habitat homeowners, and as Olive said, “they just can’t get back on track.”

Some Habitat homes are in subdivisions that the organization built from scratch. The first was the Village of Dreams between Myrtle Beach and Conway. Two other Habitat subdivisions have been built in Myrtle Beach, two in Conway and one in Longs.

Barnard said First Presbyterian has a collection for Habitat at one of its multiple Christmas Eve services. It also does other fundraising for the organization.

Barnard said it used to be that enough would be collected at the Christmas Eve service for full sponsorship of one home.

But no more. Those days, a new Habitat home cost about $26,000, he said. Now they’re nearly three times as expensive.

The church has fully or partially financed 38 Habitat homes. Additionally, Barnard said, it has underwritten the cost of 35 more homes internationally.

“When you give a home to someone, you’re making a dramatic change in a life,” Barnard said. “If you want to cure homelessness in our community, you build homes.”

Olive said it’ll probably be tough for her to completely sever herself from Habitat.

But she plans first to take some time with her grandchildren. Then, she believes, she’ll get involved with some other cause.

Likely, it will be a nonprofit. After all, she’s worked for nonprofits for much of her career.

“I think it’s time for a new vision, a new person,” she said of Habitat. “It’s the right thing for me.”

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