From homelessness to homeward-bound
Local builders prototype a kind of affordable housing
It looks like the story of Destine, the homeless Community High School student, and her great-aunt will have a happy ending.
Because of the largess of the Swannanoa Valley and the volunteer help of a couple of local builders, Destine Patterson and her great-aunt Effie Simpson should be moving into a tiny home of their own in Black Mountain in a few weeks. Since late November, they’ve been living in a Swannanoa motel, having been kicked out of the garden shed near Lake Tomahawk that they’d lived in from April to November.
On Jan. 12, the specially made, two-bedroom, one-bath house with a small living room/kitchen combination was delivered to family land on which Simpson and Destine had been living in the shed. The new 336-square-foot home, 28 feet long and 12 feet wide, stands on a foundation that local builder Mark Barker said is a prototype of an integrated foundation built to accommodate a new form of affordable housing that he and Stewart plan to build and market. Destine and her great-aunt get to live in the very first one built, at a cost of about $25,000.
“When we pulled it into the lot, she (Simpson) was in tears,” Stewart said. “You’d have thought she’d gotten a castle.”
“I’m just overjoyed and excited and grateful and I don’t know what all else,” Simpson, just a few days out of the hospital, said Jan. 17, sitting beside the house while an electrician worked inside, contributing his labor to the project. As Destine tucked Simpson’s collar around her neck to keep her great-aunt warm, Simpson talked about what the house would mean to the two of them, as well as what it used to be like in her part of town when she was growing up. Her parents moved her family to the lot when Simpson was 12. Oldest of five children, she remembers apple trees and fields of corn surrounding their three-story house.
Her parents worked at the Assembly Inn in Montreat from April through October, when the inn closed for the cold season. “From October to April we reaped what we had sown and lived off the land,” Simpson recalled. “Jobs were hard to find, other than Montreat.”
The whole family worked at the inn at some point. To support her own family during the winter of 1968, Simpson worked for a family in New York City, leaving her four sons in the care of a sitter. She remembers the day she came home to visit and found state social workers trying to remove her sons from her parents’ house. The social workers told her that her oldest had been skipping school to take care of his brothers because the sitter wasn’t taking care of them. Simpson came home to keep her family together.
In early 1969, just weeks after her 5-year-old son was badly burned by a candle, another of her sons, 3-year-old Victor, died in a fire that destroyed Simpson’s parents’ house. You can still see the block foundation of the old house beside Simpson’s new home. Nearby was the spot where the garden shed stood that had been Simpson and Destine’s home.
Stewart remembers the day last year that Simpson came shopping for that shed. Retired, he was helping a friend sell the storage buildings on U.S. 70 when Simpson showed up, looking for a home. Stewart’s friend, the owner of the business, told her it was against state building code to live in the one she wanted. So she bought a smaller one, had it hauled to the family property and lived in it anyway, with Destine.
It killed Stewart to think of them living in an uninsulated shed, using water from a hose to wash up. “There was nothing between them and the freezing temperatures but one sheet of plywood,” he said. In a Black Mountain News story published Dec. 1, Destine said she used cardboard to block the wind from blowing through the vent in the loft where she slept.
Stewart asked his friend if the company he represented could build a habitable home. When he found out it couldn’t, Stewart bought the business, dropped the supplier and found Pine View Buildings in Statesville, which said it would build the kind of home that Simpson needed, one built to code. Stewart said it’s his “heart’s desire” to build affordable housing and that Simpson’s house was the prototype of what he and Barker plan to build.
“We wanted to plant the seed for the business in the right way,” Stewart said, and Simpson’s house was the way to do it. “We wanted to do everything we could to help them.”
Stewart, the owner of Pine View Buildings of Swannanoa, and Barker said the house should be ready for Simpson and Destine in about three weeks, once the electrician and plumbers finish their work and the interior walls are hung and painted.
Helping raise the money for the home is a GoFundMe page that Destine’s teacher at Community High School, Summer Brooke Kirkpatrick, set up (to contribute toward the $25,000 goal, go to GoFundMe.com and search for Kirkpatrick’s name). As of Jan. 17, $10,845 had been raised, some of which has been used for their expenses while they’ve been at the motel.
Stewart and Barker are hoping more people in the community contribute to the GoFundMe page. Simpson is buying the structure on a rent-to-own basis, “and what we really want to see happen is this thing paid off,” Stewart said. He, Barker and others have volunteered their labor, while local businesses have sold materials at a discount.
Simpson on Jan. 17 spoke with a bit of a rasp, having left the hospital a few days earlier for treatment of a bronchial tube virus and other ailments. It was a big day, and Simpson was all smiles (Destine too). Stewart and Barker were feeling good about helping Simpson, the mother on guys Barker went to school with.
It was a happy time beneath cloudy skies that, even though the air was warm, portended cold weather to come. Simpson, tucked into her parka and with Destine always at her side, didn’t seem worried, however. She has a home to move into.
“I’m just waiting on the key,” she said, smiling. “I feel blessed.”