By Brandon Martin
The Five Points Neighborhood project is officially underway following a virtual groundbreaking ceremony held on Nov. 18.
A total of 27 units are slated to be built on both sides of W. Church Street, near Uptown Martinsville. Twelve of the units will be single family homes on the southside of the street and the other 15 homes will be townhouses located on the northside of W. Church Street.
The unit construction comes from a partnership between the City of Martinsville, Henry County, the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville, the Harvest Foundation, Nationwide Homes, Silverpoint Homes, the Martinsville-Henry County Economic Development Corporation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, and Virginia Housing.
Leon Towarnicki, city manager, said the project addresses a need first brought up during a 2019 housing summit.
“A recurring message we were hearing from the Economic Development Corporation is that as new companies come to this area, one of the questions they frequently hear is ‘where are our employees going to live,’” Towarnicki said. “That was a message we were all getting loud and clear.”
Towarnicki described the project as “a win, win, win, win for many people.
“It’s certainly a win for the city, in that it is an opportunity for new housing construction in the city that hasn’t occurred in quite a while,” he added. “It is certainly a win for those in our community looking for affordable housing. Altogether, when you look at the units, it’s going to represent about $4 million in total for new housing development in the city. From the city standpoint, we will probably generate $100,000 a year in utilities and real estate taxes.”
The neighborhood will be geared towards individuals making $15-20 an hour or $30,000-35,000 a year.
“Through the grant, we are able to pay down and cover much of the site development cost,” Towarnicki said. “So as individuals are able to qualify for these houses, their cost is simply going to be the cost of the unit. All the peripheral costs that go into site development–the extension of utilities and that kind of thing–are all being covered by the grant.”
The final benefactor is Nationwide Homes, which will have a hand in constructing the units.
“It’s an opportunity for a great, local company to showcase some of their product and to show people in the community what they are capable of doing,” Towarnicki said.
Don Aheron, general manager of Nationwide Homes, noted the importance of helping the local community.
“Nationwide has been in business here in the city of Martinsville for over 60 years, and going on close to 70 years now,” Aheron said. “We are committed to helping improve our community and the lives of our associates and our neighbors. One of our core values is our commitment to solving housing issues in our markets in our communities. This project allows us to live up to that commitment while also helping pave the way for the future improvements by acting as a template for other areas to do the same.”
Silverpoint Homes also will be involved in construction.
“Over the last 20 years, Silverpoint Homes has built residential and commercial dwellings with the family in mind,” Aheron said. “It is our home that the Five Points project will support our families, strengthen our community, encourage further development in surrounding areas.”
Kate Keller, president of the Harvest Foundation, praised members in the partnership for a quick turnaround on the project.
“The Five Points Neighborhood is a fantastic example about when a community comes together,” Keller said. “In such a short period of time, we were able to accomplish something so great. This is a great example of public and private partnerships, collaborating and moving forward.”
Keller said that approximately $500,000 in grant monies was received from Virginia Housing to fund the project.
Due to the funds, Keller said the lives of 27 families will be impacted for the better.
“They will have the ability and capability to build generational wealth and enjoy membership in our community as a homeowner,” Keller added.
Chris Thompson, director of strategic housing for Virginia Housing, said the cost of housing is a statewide issue.
“Housing affordability is a crisis across Virginia,” he said. “It’s something that is both critical to our homeowners and our renters. This is just the first step in how we can promote modular housing construction as well as this unique partnership with local governments across Virginia.”
The project in Martinsville will serve as a model for other areas in Virginia that are struggling with housing.
“This is not going to be something that is one-and-done here,” Thompson said. “We want to take this message across Virginia. This was just one of three innovation awards that we made so we can’t wait to see the homes going up, the new homeowners coming in, and using this as an example statewide.”
Philip Wenkstern, executive director of the United Way of HCM, said his organization will be responsible for guiding individuals through the process of homeownership.
“At the United Way, we firmly understand the importance of homeownership. Both in terms of improving one’s net worth as well as conferring true stability on one’s family,” he said. “The United Way’s primary role in this project is going to be helping individuals enter the pipeline for this homeownership program.”
Wenkstern also highlighted the United Way’s Individual Development Account Program.
“This program provides max saving accounts for individuals that are interested in purchasing a home,” he said. “It also provides financial education training, so they are better able to manage their finances and be more successful once they actually own the home.”
Wenkstern said individuals will be able to save $500 and have their savings matched at a rate of $8 for every $1 saved.
“So potentially up to $4,000 in grant funds going to help with down payment assistance,” he added. “The same staff member that is going to be helping enroll individuals in the process of homeownership for the Five Points project is also coordinating the IDA program.”