HAZARD—Though the housing market has been in a crisis for the last five years, nearly 20 new houses have been popping up in Perry County and the surrounding area every year, with families moving in as soon as they are finished. This phenomenon can only be attributed to the hard work of the staff and volunteers at the Housing Development Alliance in Hazard, which will celebrate its 20th year of helping a community in need this year.
Gerry Roll, executive director for the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, was one of the founding members of the alliance in 1993.
Roll said Community Ministries, where she was employed at the time, started the homeless shelter previous to the alliance’s inception in response to the rising number of homeless in the community having to leave the region to find assistance.
“The (Community Ministries) board had decided that they really would like to deal with local people locally, so, we had started the homeless shelter,” Roll explained. “It became quickly apparent that we didn’t want to keep people in the homeless shelter forever, but we really lacked affordable housing options if people really were interested in working and re-educating themselves, getting jobs, becoming homeowners.”
For this reason, the Housing Development Alliance was formed, known then as the Hazard Perry County Housing Development Alliance.
“It was truly a community effort,” Roll added. “It was something that we decided needed to happen and people in the community rallied around it and got together and made it happen.”
Roll said the alliance initially received $25,000 in grant moneys, and immediately began working to staff the operation. Scott McReynolds was hired within a few months and is currently the HDA’s executive director.
“I think it was truly a blessing and a gift that Scott McReynolds was available and wanted to do the work,” Roll said. “I think Scott is really gifted and has really brought the organization to what it is today.”
Today, the organization’s résumé is pretty full, with 192 new homes built since 1996, 425 repair projects having been done, 35 rental units built, and over 5,000 volunteers reaching out to help the alliance. McReynolds said the organization plans to celebrate all of the victories it has had over the last 20 years for the rest of the year.
“We’ll probably be doing some open houses and some other community events,” he said, adding that every time the alliance is able to help the community with a building or rehab project is a celebration with funds being as tight as they are this year.
Bailey Richards, coordinator at HDA, said another way the alliance plans to celebrate this year is by making its upcoming Community House Raising the best yet by adjusting some things that may have made the event more difficult for volunteers.
“Normally it’s at the end of October; this time, the first day is going to be September 28, which is almost a full month earlier than the last two,” Richards explained. “The last two we struggled with weather and we’ve struggled with planning things around the different hunting seasons and football and all the school events.”
The alliance will also be offering two hour time slots to sign up for online for the days of the house raising for anyone who wishes to volunteer but cannot commit the whole day, and also T-shirts on which businesses will be advertised if a donation is made.
“We’re trying to raise $20,000 for the supplies for this house raising to make sure we can stretch the funds we have as far as possible,” McReynolds said.
Richards said the deadline to sign up to volunteer, get a T-shirt, and have a business or organization advertised is Sept. 16, though she warned spots fill up quickly.
“Assuming we still have spots, we’ll still be taking people until those spots are filled,” she said. “There’s a very significant chance that we will be filled by then, so, sooner is definitely better.”
Roll said that though she no longer works directly with the alliance or Community Ministries, she is still very proud of where what was initially just an idea has come in the last 20 years.
“I’m just so proud of us, all of us, this whole Hazard and Perry County area and now all the county’s in it (the HDA),” she said. “I think it’s a true testament to what’s possible in our region if you want something to happen.”
For more information on how to sign up, log on to www.hdahome.org.