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Program rehabs foreclosed homes
Hall uses inmate labor now, plans to work with Habitat for Humanity soon
Chris Robinson looks over the kitchen being remodeled in a foreclosed home purchased through a Hall County grant. - photo by Tom Reed

Carmen Rodriguez, her husband and her two children are currently renting her parents’ basement. But through the Hall County Neighborhood Stabilization program, her family will soon have a home of its very own.

“I’ve always wanted my own place,” Rodriguez said. “Finally, our family is going to be stable.”

The program, where the county buys foreclosed houses, rehabilitates them and sells them to new
homeowners, is funded by a federal grant through the state’s Department of Community Affairs.

The county currently owns about 20 houses and has nine under contract, set to close by the end of the year.

The program was managed by Home Development Resources Inc. for about three years until the county brought it in-house in September.

County housing specialist Chris Robinson said HDRI was not using all the grant funding for everything it could be used for, such as cleaning up abandoned properties. The county also wanted to include community partners like Habitat for Humanity of Hall County, said Jessica Robinson, manager of the neighborhood program.

Hall County had 503 foreclosed homes in 2012, but there were significantly more in 2011, Hall County Chief Appraiser Steve Watson said.

Hall County was allocated $1.9 million in September 2011, and when a house sells, the money goes back into the program. Houses are priced appropriately for the neighborhood, Robinson said.

The vacant properties are usually in poor shape, with lawns overgrown and the houses vandalized and burglarized, said Chris Robinson, county housing specialist.

Robinson, no relation to Jessica, is a reserve deputy with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office and oversees work release inmates who work on the houses. Ten inmates have come through the program, he said.

“They’re very hard workers,” he said.

Typical chores to fix up the houses include cutting grass, painting, cleaning, minor plumbing work and replacing broken windows. More than half of the houses Chris Robinson has seen have already been renovated before the county got there.

The county is also supplying appliances, such as stoves and dishwashers and will do some amenities like decks. About 70 percent of the homes are now ready to be put on the market, he said.

“It’s time consuming, but it’s worth it,” he said.

Habitat will begin working on the houses sometime next year.

The nonprofit was a natural partner because it has financially qualified homeowners and a labor pool, said Ann Nixon, Habitat’s executive director.

“This program gives us the opportunity to get those families into homes much faster,” Nixon said. “It’s a win all the way around.”

Rodriguez’s new home is a three-bedroom, two-bath home in Gillsville with plenty of room for her 2- and 4-year-old daughters.

She said looking for a house was discouraging before she discovered the program, with many she looked at needing major repairs. With other houses she encountered bidding wars with about a dozen other house hunters.

Her closing is currently set for Dec. 28.

“They fix everything,” she said. “It’s like a brand new house.”