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VOL. 38 | NO. 48 | Friday, November 28, 2014

Edison Park finds ally in Habitat for Humanity

By Kathy Carlson

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Day four of construction of Dwight and Danielle Horton’s new Habitat home in the Edison Park subdivision. The couple and their three children, Jamarion, 10, Nevayah, 9, and Alyssa, 8, moved into the finished property earlier this month.

-- Submitted Photograph Courtesy Of Habitat Nashville.Org

This Thanksgiving marks two years that Aisha Lbhalla, her husband and their two young sons have lived in Edison Park.

They have a single-family home that backs up to her older son’s school, Thomas A. Edison Elementary. The house has four bedrooms, brick facing, a garage and nearly 1,500 square feet, Lbhalla says.

It’s a Habitat for Humanity house, built by the faith-based nonprofit that organizes volunteers, donors, skilled tradespeople and others to make affordable housing a reality for hundreds in Middle Tennessee.

“We were very fortunate because this is [an area] where Habitat is mixed in with a regular subdivision,” she says. Her family is paying off an interest-free mortgage that Habitat holds and services.

The Lbhalla family moved in a few months after Habitat began building in the Antioch subdivision in the summer of 2012. Construction work had halted without warning in 2008, during the 2007-2009 recession.

Desi Smith (R) along with her son Derrick Smith and her granddaughters Shemia Smith,15 (L) holding Sheltie and Moria Smith, 7 outside their Antioch home in the Edison Park subdivision.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

By the time Lbhalla arrived, Habitat had been mowing the grass on Edison Park’s many vacant lots, property that hadn’t seen a lawnmower in years. Habitat had eight or so homes built in Edison Park at that time.

Edison Park originally was supposed to have 82 houses, but only 38 had been built when construction stopped, creating what is known as a zombie subdivision – a ghost town neighborhood that is nothing like what appeared in the original sales brochure.

Habitat will have built 38 houses in Edison Park when their work ends.

One of those houses, a welcoming two-story home with a two-car garage, a front porch and brick facing, belongs to Desi Smith, who moved in with her family right before the recession pushed a big pause button on Edison Park.

We “never had roads and lights until Habitat,” Smith says. “At night it was just not safe.” Neighbors kept porch lights on all night to provide some illumination. Habitat and Metro government completed the streetlights in 2013.

Smith had worked on Habitat builds in the past, and the nonprofit “zeroed in on me” to explain Habitat to her neighbors.

Some opposed Habitat’s arrival, saying it would hurt property values. Smith says she told them property values already were dropping and would continue to drop if lots stayed vacant.

“Nobody else came in to save us,” she says.

Some of the original owners quickly moved out, including a good friend who left the day Habitat arrived.

One original resident was unhappy when a Habitat house was built next door to her, Smith says. She thought it was too close to her house, and thought there had been a “stipulation” that more space would separate houses. But there was no such stipulation, and the house was built within legal requirements.

“I have a lot of compassion for,” [my neighbors], Smith says. “They came here in good faith. They believed what they were told,” about development of the subdivision before the recession hit.

Lbhalla, now president of the Edison Park Homeowners Association, says she too had misconceptions about Habitat. She thought it was a government-housing program, like Section 8, for those with little or no income.

She now knows that Habitat participants must help build homes for themselves and/or others, volunteer at Habitat ReStores and successfully complete a five- to six-month educational program before they get the keys to their house. There are other requirements as well.

The board of the homeowners association meets quarterly, and there’s an annual meeting for all of the residents. The board is exploring the idea of having a management company that would be the one to notify a neighbor if he hadn’t kept his lawn mowed, she says. There’s also talk of starting a neighborhood watch and having an off-site event for the whole subdivision over the winter holidays.

The neighborhood children all know one another and play together, but it’s harder to get the adults together. There are work schedules to consider, and Lbhalla is aware of past tensions between original residents and those who bought Habitat homes.

Smith says some of the “us” and “them” attitudes persist from Habitat’s initial appearance in the subdivision. “I think we all want the same thing,” she adds. “The way we get there is different.”

“I think things are coming along pretty well,” Lbhalla adds. “It’s an easy area,” with just the right balance of houses and open space. It’s easy to get exercise walking around the subdivision’s four streets. She can watch her older son walk to school each morning. Roads should be completed next year.

She knows about the not-so-good-old days of a few years ago and how things have changed.

“We were told before that when the homes were few and far between, cars were broken into,” Lbhalla says.

Thieves got to know the residents’ routines and the streets were not all lighted.

“Now they know that this is a neighborhood.”

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