Investigation uncovers boarded up and abandoned Habitat for Humanity homes in west Louisville
There are 30 years of success stories of Habitat for Humanity in Louisville, but there's also a tale not being told.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity finished Eurana Horton's home in the Portland neighborhood in 2001. The organization sold it to Horton for no profit and loaned her the money at zero interest.
"I had three small children," Horton said. "The dad ... had just walked out on us. I had to file for bankruptcy."
But Habitat helped Horton nail down some stability. By March 1, 2020, she's set to own the home in full.
"The greatest feeling in the world," she said, envisioning that day less than three years away.
There are 30 years of success stories like Horton's in Louisville, but there's also a tale not being told: Habitat homes are boarded up, abandoned, ransacked, foreclosed and demolished.
Habitat for Humanity has built more than 400 homes across Louisville, most in the Portland and Russell neighborhoods. Of those properties, approximately 40 have active code enforcement cases, at least 13 homes are boarded up and there are about 50 habitual offenders, homes that are racking up dozens of violations and thousands in fines for trash-lined properties, weeds and blight, like black eyes on the neighborhoods they were built to restore.
Kim Dial's home at 20th and Magazine Streets, where the windows are shot out and boarded up, has $20,000 in city code violations and back taxes.
"Up until last year, I used to drive by just to look, wishing I'd done things differently," she said.
Dial lived there from 1993 to 2004 until she married and moved to east Louisville.
"We paid it off, or whatever you call it when you get a second mortgage," she said. "We paid off the loan with Habitat, and it became ours."
But their attempts to rent the home failed, and then her husband passed away.
"I lost him to cancer in 2009, so I paid it up a year and decided in 2010 that I would deed it back to the mortgage company," Dial said.
But the mortgage company died too in the housing crisis. Five years later, the home sits in property purgatory, locked between bankruptcy and foreclosure.
"They vandalized it twice, took copper out of the wall, the heater, the hot water tank, the washer and dryer..." Dial said.
Today, there's clear evidence of squatters, like the truck that's not hers parked in the back yard and the unexplained water hose running inside her home. Nothing stops a Habitat homeowner from re-selling or leveraging the land for other loans.
"Once the house goes out of the relationship where Habitat is the bank, we have almost no control," said Rob Locke, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Metro Louisville. "There are times when families make bad decisions."
Locke said when Habitat homes fail, it's most often due to one of the three Ds: divorce, debt or death.
"It's very frustrating to see a house that we put all this energy into, all this time, gathered all this talent, for it not be used for what it is intended," Locke said. "But it's extremely rare."
The corner of 19th and Madison Streets in west Louisville, where a boarded up Habitat home and another already torn down face a third that's been occupied for 20 years, shows signs of all of Locke's frustration.
"I'm very familiar with that street corner," Locke said. "I built some of those houses, and I hate that there's a house over there that's boarded up."
Habitat handpicks its homeowners, each required to take budgeting and responsibility classes and put in 400 hours of "sweat equity," building Habitat homes, including their own.
When asked if there's anything the non-profit can do differently, Locke said they've realized they must consider the conditions around the houses they build, which include low-job opportunities and high-crime rates. For example, there was dead body found this week on Horton's street.
"So you see this fork for the organization, saying, 'Wow, you see these neighborhoods where we've done 300, 400 houses still struggling,'" Locke said. "We've still got families saying, 'Hey, I don't feel safe, and why is that not better?'"
It all has Habitat for Humanity reevaluating where it builds, putting more stakes in the ground in east Louisville and Oldham County. The Park Spring subdivision off Lake Louisvilla Drive is expected to break ground on Nov. 30 with 99 mixed-income homes built over the next six years with the Habitat business model on donated land.
Locke said the non-profit won't stop building in west Louisville, instead focusing more on community development and home repair.
Dial knows her home is not doing justice to the hands that built it. She said it's going up for foreclosure auction yet again. But this time, she hopes someone saves it and builds better memories before it's torn down.
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