A New Kind of Habitat

We usually think of Habitat for Humanity as constructing new houses rather than getting involved in historic preservation, but that's not always the case. Preservation Magazine's Nov/Dec 2009 issue includes an article, "A New Kind of Habitat," about a project in North Carolina that included new construction as well as rehabilitatation of historic buildings in partnership with other developers.

Although Habitat is known for building new housing rather than restoring historic structures (80 percent of the housing constructed by the international nonprofit is new), Oberle wanted to preserve the historic character of Cherry Street, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. "We think that Habitat and preservationists can exist hand-in-hand, and should," she says.

Oberle worked with city officials and members of the state historic preservation office to buy houses and vacant lots in a three-block area, then persuaded two private developers to risk their own capital to restore historic structures there. She also agreed to build 15 new houses and received city permission to demolish five houses that were beyond repair.