The interior of one of the homes under construction at Greenhouse Village. (Adam Lamberti photo)

By Adam Lamberti

The Rockbridge Area Habitat for Humanity recently bought land adjacent to U.S. Highway 11 South in Lexington, allowing the non-profit agency to build seven new affordable houses.

Rockbridge County, like many areas in the country, lacks enough affordable housing for lower to middle-income residents. According to the Pew Research Center, rent has increased 18% in the past five years across the nation. And buyers paid 25% more for single-family houses at the end of 2021, compared to 2019.

“A lot of the other builders basically priced hundreds of people in this area out of the market,” said Habitat construction supervisor Leo Decanini.

He’s seen cases where modular homes, typically priced at $180,000 to $200,000, sold for $300,000 because of the demand. “All of a sudden, the range of people, who were looking for housing, doubled.”

The new site, to be named Tricoli Court, won’t be developed for about two years. That’s when Habitat’s current project, Greenhouse Village, will likely be finished. That community, which is located on Village Way next to the Rockbridge County Sherriff’s Department, will have 37 houses.

FILE – The Habitat for Humanity Greenhouse Village build site in Rockbridge County.

Habitat Executive Director Lynne Johnson said that the newly acquired land near the Lexington Prescription Center off U.S. 11 will help continue its mission to build strong and affordable communities.

“The great part about Habitat is when we build houses and when we partner with families, they put sweat equity in and they don’t only work on their own houses, they work on their neighbor’s house. And so, it’s paying it forward,” Johnson said.

Rent and housing has increased across the nation due in part to the increasing cost of production to build homes. Decanini said the price of building materials shot up 300% during the pandemic.

In July, Habitat received a $270,000 grant from the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission (CSPDC), which helps the agency offset production costs. CSPDC Housing Program Manager Olivia Raines cited Rockbridge Habitat’s proven track record of completing houses and creating “awesome” neighborhoods.

Habitat uses some of its funding to repair existing houses. Rockbridge County residents qualify for repairs if their income is 65 percent or less of the median income in the county. Lowe’s and Habitat International recently gave grants to help with this effort.

“We’re hoping to set things up so we can do more repairs to keep the houses that are here with roofs on them,” Johnson said.

Most recently, the lack of affordable housing has been exacerbated by inflation and job losses.

“It’s come to the forefront,” Johnson said, “we also know people are needing more.”

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