Teams are coming to the area and they will construct as many houses as needed to help residents get back up on their feet, said members of disaster relief organizations recently at a meeting held at the Vilonia Senior Citizens Center.
"We just have to have commitments from the people," said Shenel Sandidge, executive director of Faulkner County Habitat for Humanity. "This is all about giving a hand up."
Referring to the April 27 tornado that leveled many houses in the area, Sandidge said Vilonia qualifies for disaster response efforts. The houses being built will be turn-key, meaning built from the ground up, and they will include appliances. Also, she is recommending they come with a safe room, but that is optional.
Eligibility is based on need, disability and income, Sandidge said, adding veterans have a different and more lenient income requirement for eligibility.
With Habitat there is a mortgage with zero-percent interest amortized for up to 25 years and will be repaid in monthly payments. An average mortgage payment is $300-500. The houses are built with volunteer labor and many donated items, so the cost is significantly lower than general construction. Whatever the house cost to build, she said, is what the owner will pay, plus the cost of insurance. And the mortgage on the house is not income-based but instead based on the cost of building the house. The largest house they have constructed was a five bedroom, but generally they are much smaller. The average three-bedroom house, she said, is 1,275 square feet.
About 50 were in attendance at the meeting, and several turned in applications for assistance. Those who own land may be on a fast track to getting back in new houses. Habitat, Sandidge explained, will have security interest in the landowner’s property. Where there are large parcels of land, it will be only in the part necessary for building. Also, Habitat will purchase land in Vilonia and help those who aren’t landowners but who qualify to get in a house. Currently lots are waiting to be built on.
Addressing the audience she said, "If you think this is too good to be true, it is not. We are ready to help. And, Habitat Houses are not your cracker box houses anymore."
All applications will be considered on an individual basis. There are different guidelines to follow in a disaster situation. She stressed that all residents who need a house should apply.
Some factors that are standard is that one must have some kind of income and be willing to provide 50 hours of sweat equity per house. For those who are disabled, the sweat equity may be done by someone else. Those receiving help will also be required to have credit counseling and budgeting classes.
House plans can vary, and those receiving the houses will have input and work with planners. Building, Sandidge said, could begin as early as October. Generally, it takes six months to a year to build a house. But due to the tornado, disaster teams will be coming in to build. A couple of the teams can put up a house in three days.
There is a $750 down payment, which is rolled back at closing. Some in the audience said they live paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford the down payment. Representatives of the Vilonia Disaster Recover Center in Vilonia said there may be assistance available to help with the down payments.
Amber Ochod and her children lived in a mobile home behind Sonic and were displaced by the tornado. She signed up for the assistance on all counts. She said she is living in a rental in the Greenbrier area and, "I want to come home." She moved to Vilonia six years ago from California.
For more information, call 501-513-3244.