Austin Habitat for Humanity celebrates new headquarters, CEO
Thursday, November 19, 2015 by Vicky Garza
2015 has been an eventful year for Austin Habitat for Humanity. With bright new headquarters and a new leader at the helm, the nonprofit has built itself up into a good position to further help with the issue of affordable housing in Austin.
Austin Habitat’s new headquarters at the corner of Highway 71 and South First Street have been under construction since February. The nonprofit chose the former South Austin Chuck E. Cheese site based on a market study that concluded it was the optimal area to best serve its client base.
“The early signs are fantastic. There is lots of opportunity here,” said Austin Habitat for Humanity CEO Phyllis Snodgrass. She started her position on Nov. 2 after stepping down from her previous role as chief operating officer at the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
The 53,000-square-foot building allowed Austin Habitat to combine all of its operations and employees under one roof, Snodgrass said. The organization is raising the funds to pay for the building through a $4 million capital campaign currently underway.
Office staff moved into the building on Oct. 1, and all of the offices and meeting rooms are furnished with gently used office furniture from the organization’s ReStore home improvement store and donation center on the other side of the building.
Since its soft opening on Oct. 23, the new ReStore location has seen an increase in donations and sales of new and gently used construction materials and furniture compared to its old location. The former ReStore, at 310 Comal St. in East Austin, was the first ReStore in the country, said Snodgrass. There are now 850 ReStores in the United States, and she said that further expansion in Austin is likely.
More sales means more money for Austin Habitat to further its mission, because revenue from the retail outlet is used to fund the organization’s other programs, which include homebuilding, home repair and financial counseling.
The new headquarters allowed Austin Habitat to build more conference rooms, which the nonprofit will use for its counseling classes. Snodgrass said the organization is also offering the meeting rooms to other nonprofit organizations, neighborhood groups and small businesses.
There is an additional 1,000-square-foot room at the back of the building that Austin Habitat is looking to rent out to an organization with a like-minded mission.
The construction team is expected to move into the building after it has completed the five homes currently under construction as part of its “fall build.” The team plans to build 18 homes next year, which may include two-story homes and multifamily housing. In order to meet the challenges of continuing to serve people in Central Texas’ changing real estate landscape, said Greg Anderson, director of operations, Austin Habitat has had to start looking at housing options that are more compact and connected than in the past.
The new building also gives the nonprofit added visibility. Its bright white, blue and green exterior helps it stand out along the highway, and the number of people who pass by the building has jumped from 700 a day at the old ReStore location to 150,000 a day.
Additionally, the new facility has given Austin Habitat the opportunity to make its operations more environmentally friendly. The new building has 49 skylights and a 254-kilowatt solar power system that is expected to generate 40 percent of the building’s power needs. The organization is working toward a four-star Austin Energy Green Building rating.
Snodgrass said that City Council has been supportive of the project and that Austin Habitat has worked with the city and Austin Energy on permitting issues and solar panels. It has also partnered with Austin Resource Recovery on its Zero Waste initiative. Since opening the first ReStore about 30 years ago, Austin Habitat has helped save 17 million pounds of material from landfills.
Austin Habitat will hold its grand opening for the new building at 500 W. Ben White Blvd. on Nov. 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is open to the public, and there will be food trucks, local vendors, tours, do-it-yourself demos and activities for kids. Speaking at the opening will be Mayor Steve Adler and Council Member Pio Renteria; other Council members are expected to attend.
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