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Bucksport man first in S.C. to receive home built with community block grant money

A few pieces of Glenn Graham’s childhood home made the move.

There’s the 93-year-old frame that holds a photograph of his grandparents. An old sewing machine is reincarnated as a serving table. And his most prized heirloom, a weathervane, sits in his living room, waiting to be installed on top of his new house on Bucksport Road.

That house itself is also history: It’s the first home in South Carolina built from community development block grants.

“It’s like a new beginning, you know,” the 67-year-old tailor said.

About $1 million flows from the federal government to the Horry County grants office each year to help the poor repair dilapidated homes. The money pays for lifting sagging floors, patching leaky roofs, and installing heating and air systems.

County officials had planned to make similar improvements to Graham’s former abode -- the 65-year-old shack his father built from green pine wood -- but the termite damage was severe, the walls were rotting and the foundation was crumbling.

“It was so much to repair his house,” said Diana Seydlorsky, community development director for Horry County. “It wasn’t going to cost much more to build a new one.”

When Seydlorsky and her staff realized this, they pitched the idea of a reconstruction to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The feds agreed a new house made sense and fell within the program’s guidelines. So Seydlorsky’s office spent about $80,000 on a two-bedroom, two-bath home for Graham. The house is about 1,000 square feet and follows the design used by the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity. He lived in the old house while the new one was under construction and moved in several weeks ago.

Graham is like many of the people who receive housing grants from the county, Seydlorsky said. They are elderly and poor, yet own property and stick-built homes. Often the properties are inherited and the owners aren’t sure what to do with them.

In Graham’s case, he left Bucksport for New Jersey when he was 18 years old. He studied tailoring at a trade school and spent years working in haberdasheries fitting men for suits and helping them pick out neckties. He moved back home seven years ago and tried to salvage the family home.

“I got aggravated a little,” he said. “Did what I could do with it.”

About three and a half years ago, he learned about the county’s program from a friend. He filled out an application and prepared for his turn.

The waiting list for the program has about 200 names on it, Seydlorsky said, and the $1 million goes fast.

“It’s not enough, believe me,” she said. “It sounds like a lot, but it just isn’t.”

For those whose homes are approved for repairs, the program is invaluable.

“They are day to day having enough money just for food, medication,” Seydlorsky said. “This is their one-time shot to help them go ahead and live in a normal housing unit. We have seen houses where they sit there in their living rooms with umbrellas, and they just don’t have the money to make the repairs.”

Johnnie Mae McCray knew she couldn’t stay in her house when she spotted a snake slinking in through her kitchen window. It wasn’t the first time the 58-year-old had dealt with a serpent in the home.

McCray lives on Cedar Branch Road in the Loris area. During a winter storm, a tree fell through her roof. With no homeowners insurance, she couldn’t repair the damage. She pulled a blue tarp over the hole.

When county officials looked at the house McCray had lived in for 20 years, they concluded it couldn’t be saved.

“It wasn’t even really worth fixing,” she said. “We was sleeping with the snakes.”

McCray’s 10-year-old granddaughter lived in the house with her. The two have been staying with friends while their home is finished and they expect to move in a few weeks.

“A lot of people don’t know nothing about this program,” she said. “I said, ‘When I get in my house, I just want to go out there and help somebody or talk to people to let them know it’s out there. Because there’s a lot of me out there who need homes.’”

Graham also expressed gratitude for his new place.

There’s a muddy depression where his old home once stood, the area he now calls his front yard.

But he hopes to plant some sod, move his line of azalea bushes along the sidewalk and set up a picnic area underneath the towering magnolia beside his one-story, sandstone-colored castle.

“It’s like a wound there,” he said of the place where the old house stood. “It’s got to be healed.”

Charles D. Perry: 843-626-0218, @TSN_CharlesPerr

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