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Ingoing, outgoing presidents praise Habitat’s home mission

by Eric E. Harrison | June 4, 2023 at 3:23 a.m.
Roger Marlin (left), outgoing board president of Habitat for Humanity for Central Arkansas, and incoming president Rich Dunlap visit a Habitat Humanity Home nearing completion on West 10th St. in North Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

Come July 1, Roger Marlin, board president for the past year of Habitat for Humanity of Central Arkansas (serving Pulaski and Lonoke counties), hands over the gavel to the current vice president, Rich Dunlap.

For Marlin, his service has been much more honor-ous than onerous.

"I believe in the mission of Habitat," he says firmly. "I have long had a belief in what Habitat does and who they benefit.

"I think that everybody deserves a home."

Since its founding in 1989, the local Habitat branch has built more than 233 houses and rehabilitated more than 838. (What seem to be exact numbers are in flux, Marlin explains, because at any one time, there are likely to be three or four houses under construction.)

Habitat has three primary focus areas:

The Habitat Homeowner Program, which involves building "safe, decent, affordable houses for low- to moderate-income individuals who may not otherwise qualify for a traditional mortgage," according to Habitat director of development Brad Robertson. It's open to anyone who earns below 80% of the area's median income, as set by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"In lieu of a down payment, approved applicants devote at least 350 sweat-equity hours to help build their home or work on other Habitat projects," Robertson says.

Habitat homeowners pay 0% interest on their mortgages, Robertson adds. "Our average Habitat mortgage payment is $550 (including taxes and insurance) per month -- compared to the average fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Central Arkansas, which is $830." And, "Homeowner mortgage payments are then reinvested back into the program, allowing more homes to be built."

Habitat's Neighborhood Revitalization Program has been on pause since the start of the covid-19 pandemic, but before that, low- to moderate-income homeowners could do exterior rehabilitation projects, including painting, accessibility modifications, roof and porch repairs, weatherization and home preservation, with a goal of creating "in coalition with neighborhood residents, local government and community partners ... more stable, desirable neighborhoods," Robertson explains.

Dunlap notes that there's one rehab project about to commence, but for the program as a whole, Marlin says, that the board is still discussing whether to revive it or consider other program options.

The Habitat ReStore, a home improvement store and donation center on Little Rock's South University Avenue, sells new and gently used furniture, appliances, home accessories and building materials, usually at a fraction of the retail price. Proceeds cover the nonprofit's overhead costs, "allowing the majority of the dollars donated to Habitat to go directly into our programs," Robertson says.

The southwest Little Rock ReStore is among the country's top performers, Marlin says. A second store in North Little Rock closed a few years ago, not because it wasn't performing well, but for "a number of other reasons," he adds without specifying. Dunlap says Habitat is looking for ways to open others in the area.

Marlin says the store attracts people looking to build, furnish or decorate houses.

"You can always find some bargains, and it's ideal for folks looking for unique items," he says. Stock includes unused materials donated by contractors and suppliers -- for example, new doors and windows that "turned out to be the wrong size, or hung the wrong way." Much of the furniture and appliances come from homeowner donations, which Habitat employees and volunteers will pick up directly. Recycling these items keeps a lot of waste out of landfills -- the nonprofit estimates more than 5 million tons worth over the decades.

Marlin says he served a three-year term on the Habitat board seven or eight years ago, then took on the presidency of the Association of General Contractors, which took him off the board for a little over two years. Then he came back, rose to the post of vice president and followed on for a year's term as president. As past president, he will spend another year on the board and executive committee.

Dunlap has spent the past year as vice president, and will likewise follow up his presidential year with another year as past president.

The president leads monthly board and executive board meetings. However, "six board committees really run the organization, and by the time you get to be president you have served on or chaired two or three of them," Marlin explains. The committees include construction, finance, homeowner selection and ReStore.

Marlin compares Habitat's funding mechanism to a three-legged stool. "We raise money three ways," he says, "direct fundraising, ReStore and two special events each year -- Baggos, Brats and Blues in the spring, and our 'Gratitude Gathering' in the fall," recognizing those "who have had a major impact on Habitat over the years." This year's venue is still being worked out; last year it was at the Governor's Mansion,

Marlin and Dunlap have a link to Habitat's mission through their respective day jobs: Dunlap is chief executive officer of Darragh Co., a construction company; Marlin recently retired as CEO and president of Hydco, a general contractor and construction management firm.

Also dovetailing with his Habitat role, Marlin now also chairs the Pulaski County Homeless Village project, a planned southwest Little Rock community of micro cottages and environmentally friendly tiny houses that would provide affordable, permanent-quality housing for people coming out of chronic homelessness.

Habitat has its origins in faith-based initiatives, and counts on several big churches as partners -- Christian but non-denominational, as Dunlap explains.

"It's not a pure charity in that people can get a home with dignity, but they have to put in sweat equity," he says. "And what they pay in mortgage payments goes to pay for somebody else's home."

"Every house we build, we have a home dedication," Marlin adds. "The looks on the faces of the new homeowner -- it's their house. That's what being a part of Habitat has done for me."

  photo  Roger Marlin (left), outgoing board president of Habitat for Humanity for Central Arkansas, and incoming president Rich Dunlap visit a Habitat Humanity Home nearing completion on West 10th St. in North Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)
  photo  Roger Marlin (left) and Rich Dunlap, outgoing and incoming Habitat for Humanity for Central Arkansas board presidents, fully support the nonprofit's vision of "a world where everyone has a decent place to live." (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

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