In the Triangle, Builders of Hope

Jackee Howell’s modest new home is more than just another house in her Southeast Raleigh neighborhood.  It’s also a potent symbol of the innovative, can-do spirit at the heart of an up-and-coming Carolina community known as the Triangle.

Built in the late 1970s, her house served its original North Raleigh owners well.  But by early 2011, it was about to be tagged as a tear-down and taken to the landfill – and replaced by something bigger.

Instead, its owner gave it away to a Raleigh-based group called Builders of Hope – and took a tax credit.   The non-profit organization, in turn, hitched it to a tractor-trailer.  Its driver headed ten miles south to a formerly blighted neighborhood – and unloaded it onto a new foundation.

The house now sits alongside 24 similarly rescued homes, on eight acres that once languished, empty and useless, on the city’s tax rolls.  They’ve all been completely renovated, their unusable materials recycled, earning them LEED-certified sustainability status.  Each home in the new State Street Village neighborhood was sold at an affordable price.

More important, each provided jobs and housing for those in Raleigh who needed them most.

“I didn’t think I would ever be able to own a house,” said Howell, who’d lived for years in rental properties with her seven-year-old daughter.  “Builders of Hope made it more affordable.  And it’s awesome to be part of a community that’s changing for the better, and giving an old house a new life that’s sustainable.”

Her home – and Builders of Hope itself – are the products of a potent strain of entrepreneurial DNA running through the Triangle these days. 

It’s something that Nancy Murray, an Alabama native and founder of Builders of Hope, calls a “You can do it!” spirit.

“It’s kind of like: ‘Got an idea? Try it!’” she said.  “We’re rich in academics, in entrepreneurs and in successful small businesses – and people are willing to share.

“We’ve got a very responsible and caring society here,” she said.  “And we’ve got a really progressive mayor.  He made State Street Village possible – because he wanted a national model for affordable, sustainable housing.”

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker got exactly what he wanted.  Murray’s Builders of Hope is now spreading its gospel and its process, with a patent pending, across the nation – from the Triangle to New Orleans, Dallas and Detroit.

Her book on the subject is due out in October.

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