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Habitat for Humanity development clears hurdle

A proposed $10 million Fort Wayne Habitat for Humanity subdivision is on track to build, but neighbors got in a few barbs Thursday.

The Allen County Plan Commission approved the non-profit organization's first-ever major housing addition after a public hearing. County commissioners still must OK a rezoning request for the 120-home development on West Cook Road across from the Raven's Cove subdivision on the city's northwest side.

Unlike most Habitat for Humanity projects, Fuller's Landing wouldn't simply be a few houses in a block. It would create its own footprint, which has neighbors worried. Some say an affordable-housing addition would create several problems, not the least of which is lower property values.

Representatives for the organization said most homes will cost $108,000 to $116,000 – a range they say is comparable to nearby homes. Officials hope to begin work on the first three-bedroom dwelling by the fall.

Habitat for Humanity attorney Thomas Niezer said the organization can boast of having only seven foreclosures out of 166 homes over a 26-year span.

"It's not the relative wealth of a homeowner," but the pride of being a homeowner that brings stability to a neighborhood, he said. A family of four could earn up to $37,100 annually to qualify for a three-bedroom house. Mortgages would range from $400 to $450, including escrow, taxes and insurance.

Raven's Cove neighborhood leader Lynn Overman said there is a perception that neighborhoods with Habitat homes have lower values, more crime and shoddy maintenance.

"If I'm investing in a neighborhood, those are things I would consider," said Overman, who did not attend Thursday's meeting.

Justin Berger, executive director of Habitat, said he expected such objections. Still, he said they're rooted in ignorance.

"This is a first for Fort Wayne, and people always have concerns when something is new," he said. "What I appreciate is that the people speaking didn't object to Habitat for Humanity or what we do." Other neighbor concerns were about congestion and the quality of the homes since the organization uses volunteers.

Berger said there are similar developments in Evansville, Bloomington and Nashville, Tenn. Fuller's Landing would feature three-bedroom ranch and two-story houses, most spanning 1,100 square feet. Walking trails, a playground and other amenities are planned.