If you had driven through the A. Price Woodard Neighborhood in spring 2014, you might have thought a tornado had come through. 

There were mounds and mounds of debris. The neighborhood had become a favorite site for illegal dumping and nothing but snakes and varmints dared to venture from the curb into the overgrown lots.

Now, the streets are lined with beautiful homes, with well-groomed lawns, fenced back yards and homeowners beaming with pride. You could see the potential within a year, but nine years later, there’s no mistaking – this is a revived community.  

“Before we built the first house in 2014, people in the community told us they felt like they were forgotten,” said Danielle Johnson, executive director of Wichita Habitat for Humanity. “Countless boarded up houses and vacant lots created blight. Today, through generous partnerships with donors, corporations, churches, volunteers and housing agencies, new homes have been built and others repaired.”

The change in the neighborhood is the work of many, but it was all under the direction of Wichita’s Habitat for Humanity.   

A nonprofit organization, Habitat changes lives by providing people in need with decent and affordable housing. They recognize that decent housing is a stabilizing factor in a family’s life. 

In Wichita, a great deal of Habitat building had been as larger scale developments, like the 42-unit Edgebrook Village the organization built between 2005 and 2010.  

With their Northeast Wichita program, called Rock the Block, Habitat moved away from planned housing developments to a program that has breathed life into a declining community.  

The original Rock the Block project boundaries were from 9th to 13th streets and Grove to Hillside. This year, they expanded to include the area from 13th to 17th between Grove and Hillside, mainly because they were running out of vacant lots to build on.  

One of the organization’s original attractions to the neighborhood was that out of 604 lots in the area, 103 were vacant. That saved the organization the cost of demolition and gave them enough inventory to make an impact on the area. 

Now, as Habitat celebrates the beginning of its 100th house build in the area, their impact is obvious, but they’re struggling to find lots to build on.  

According to Habitat Program Director Lori Walker, most of the remaining vacant lots in the area are largely privately owned by individuals who don’t want to sell and, in some cases, have encumbrances like liens.

The Rock the Block area is now home to more than 150 adults and 260 children who live in safe, affordable Wichita Habitat homes.

How Habitat Works

One of the great things about the Habitat program is that the applicants don’t have to qualify for a bank loan. Habitat finances their homes at 0% interest over 20 years.  

That helps make homeownership accessible to a lot more people, who can afford to make the payments, but have less-than-perfect credit. 

Volunteers from First Church of the Nazarene work to raise the walls of the 100th safe, affordable house in the Rock the Block effort.
Volunteers from First Church of the Nazarene work to raise the walls of the 100th safe, affordable house in the Rock the Block effort. Credit: PJ Griekspoor | The VOICE

You may be eligible for a Habitat Home if you have a:

Need for housing:  You must be currently living in substandard, overcrowded, temporary or unsafe living conditions, or be paying over 30% of income on housing and utility costs, or have not been able to obtain a conventional bank loan.

Ability to Pay: You must have a steady income that is sufficient to repay the 20-year, 0% interest mortgage and monthly living expenses. There are both minimum and maximum income requirements, tied to the size of your family.  

Willingness to Partner with Habitat:  Applicants are required to invest time and effort through Habitat’s financial education and homeownership classes (40 hours), save money to cover their closing costs ($2,000) and complete between 250 and 400 hours of “Sweat Equity” in their home. 

Habitat homes are three-, four-, or five-bedroom units.  The number of bedrooms depends on the size of the family. The three-bedroom homes have one bathroom and a single-car garage.  The  four- and five-bedroom homes have two baths and a single-car garage.  

Habitat sells houses for what they appraise for and not necessarily what it cost them to build, which is often more than what the homes appraise for.  

The three-bedrooms are now appraising for $132,000. That’s up $57,000 from what the homes were appraising for in 2014. 

The good news is that Rock the Block homeowners are gaining equity. The not-so-good news is that, like houses everywhere, the cost of Habitat homes are going up, but they remain affordable.  

Home Improvement Program

Also helping to enhance the neighborhood has been the home repair program that’s run in conjunction with the Rock the Block Program. Under this program, Habitat also has helped improve existing owner-occupied homes in the area, mostly helping to bring properties into compliance with city codes.  

“We only do owner-occupied homes and the homeowner must be current on mortgage, property taxes and insurance,” Walker said. “The average age of owners in our repair program is 62, so we do help a lot of older folks.”

Habitat is not currently taking applications for the homeownership program, hampered by a lack of funding and scarcity of lots available to build on, Walker said.  However, once they begin taking applicants again, the typical time frame from selection to homeownership is normally eight to 18 months.

P.J. Griekspoor is a semi-retired veteran journalist with 55 years experience in writing and editing in Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wichita.  She spent 18 years at the Wichita Eagle...

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...