A welcome sign for Helmsburg sits outside of the Jackson Township Fire Department. The community currently has multiple residential building projects going on. Joe Schroeder | The Democrat
A welcome sign for Helmsburg sits outside of the Jackson Township Fire Department. The community currently has multiple residential building projects going on. Joe Schroeder | The Democrat
HELMSBURG — A community that hasn’t seen a lot of new investment or interest in recent years now has not one, but three residential building projects under way.

Brown County Habitat for Humanity is in the process of building two houses from scratch on a previously abandoned parcel, down the street from the Helmsburg General Store.

The first house going up on the lot is set to be finished in September 2020, while the second house will be completed for 2021, said Habitat Office Manager Brenda Krieger.

The house being built right now is the 21st house the Brown County Habitat has built since the organization started in 1990.
“We are always looking for property at an affordable cost to renovate,” she said. “Our goal is to reinvigorate areas and provide people with affordable housing.” Once finished, the house will have three bedrooms, two bathrooms and an open-concept living room, dining room and kitchen. It will be home to the Pearletta Banks and her granddaughter Alexis, who were chosen through an application process in which Brown County Habitat look for people that qualify for the house.

According to Krieger, the organization looks for people that cannot qualify for a typical bank loan but are able to pay the house mortgage. Brown County Habitat, Krieger said, then provides the family with a zero percent interest 20-year loan in order to help with the mortgage. Additionally, the organization offers financial management classes for applicants.

The Brown County Habitat application can be found on their website at bc-habitat.org.

Volunteers started construction on the empty lot around four weeks ago, Krieger said, and have since constructed the house’s foundation, basic walls and a roof.

Construction relies entirely on volunteers, and some days the construction manager is the only one out at the lot. However, other days the lot has hosted groups of volunteers, including some Toyota employees a couple weekends ago, and they are able to get a lot of work done, Krieger said.

The house is also built from as many recycled and donated materials as possible, she said.

“We have been working hard to change the look of this lot and build up a good-looking, practical residence,” she said.

The family is required to put in sweat equity hours, where they assist in the construction of the house. The family now comes every Saturday to help other volunteers.

“We always say that we offer people a hand up, not a hand-out,” Krieger said.

Once the Habitat house is finished, local real estate agent Erika Bryenton of Brye Realty said that she and her staff will be working with the family moving in to design the exterior.

“We are very passionate about being involved in the community and love to see reinvigoration in the community,” Bryenton said. “We want to make Helmsburg beautiful as well.”

The Habitat house is not the only project Bryenton is involved with in Helmsburg. She and her business partner, Raymond Pitcher, have been turning the former Helmsburg Laundromat into two apartments.

One dwelling is already complete, Bryenton said — a one-bedroom that is part of the same building the laundromat used to be in.

“We had to knock out some of the walls, but we are now looking to add tile to the bathrooms, metal roofs and covered porches to these residences,” she said.

The second residence, a three bedroom rental, is currently being used by Pitcher and Bryenton as a home as well as a real estate office. The residence is attached to the laundromat as well and the remaining space is being used for storage, Bryenton said.

Bryenton said since she has a daughter at Helmsburg Elementary School the location has been perfect for her business to set up shop. She envisions living there for another year or two at which point the three-bedroom residence would be available for rent, she said.

“We feel like there is a lot of potential in this area,” Bryenton said. “There is a real vision of what Helmsburg can be and we want to contribute to that. We are trying to bring up the residence prices around the area and reinvigorate the town.”

Before making the decision to shut down the laundromat and begin renovations, Bryenton said she and Pitcher participated in community discussions to decide what would be the best way to move forward. They decided to continue running the laundromat for awhile to give the town time to adjust and eventually shut it down in mid-March and began renovations on April 1.

“Nothing was abrupt with how we began this project,” Bryenton said. “We put a lot of thought into these changes.”

One group that Bryenton said she and Pitcher consulted with before moving forward with the property was Helmsburg Community Development, a grassroots nonprofit that seeks to improve infrastructure and revitalize businesses in Helmsburg.

“The group is essentially the citizens of Helmsburg coming together to create a collective voice and be heard by local government,” said HCD President Adrian O’Shea.

The group seeks to lobby for general road fixes and county-funded projects in Helmsburg because O’Shea said many residents felt they weren’t being heard by county officials when speaking individually.

“Being an unincorporated town and being just outside of Nashville, we just really didn’t ever get the time,” he said.

O’Shea said HCD has been around for about two to three years and residents have been committed to addressing dilapidated homes and vacant lots in the area. HCD has organized community clean-up days where volunteers gathered to remove appliances and trash from lots and do yard work on unkempt lawns.

The HCD has also been lobbying for more county-funded projects to come to Helmsburg with recently advocating for a stormwater project that has been in the works for around 15 years to finally reach its second phase, O’Shea said.

The county is helping by applying for a $600,000 grant to help fund it.

“We just want to ensure that everyone in our town is serviced, that no one gets overlooked,” O’Shea said. “We have seen a lot of flooding in the area and want to move forward with a better way to handle stormwater.”

O’Shea said the recent residential development projects in Helmsburg have been great for the community. It took a hit in 2011 when one of the county’s major private employers, For Bare Feet sock factory, closed its Helmsburg plant after a fire and later moved to Martinsville.

O’Shea said he looks forward to seeing how the new home lots turn out, and said that any economic or residential development in the area is a step in the right direction.

“This has been an awesome thing to see recently,” O’Shea said. “We want to encourage people to visit, volunteer and help reinvigorate our town, and that is exactly what has been happening.”

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