Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County (HFHGC) does far more than build houses.
The families who enjoy the shelter of their community-built homes have seen improved performance at work and at school. Of the families that occupy HFHGC houses, 94% felt that they made a difference in the lives of others, and felt empowered to try new things, and 92% appreciated connecting with people and building new relationships through the shared sweat equity that they invested in their homes.
In spite of the personal and community benefits, it takes a lot to keep the program running. HFHGC is supported in part by the revenue generated through its ReStore program, a series of three retail stores that collect and sell architectural salvage, furniture, and other construction materials.
In 2015, HFHGC and its affiliates successfully lobbied for and saw the ratification of South Carolina House Bill 3568 which exempted Habitat for Humanity from the state sales tax on construction materials. But securing legislative support at the state level revealed to many Habitat for Humanity supporters that money has as loud a voice as do all of the families that benefit from the program. HFHGC would need to produce fiduciary evidence to tell a complete and convincing story.
Growing in Greenville
HFHGC grew precipitously since its first build in 1987 to an expansive and active organization which completed over 330 homes, operates three ReStores, started four development communities, and earned local and state recognition through numerous awards and grants.
And the benefits to the community extend far beyond the structures that they raise. In 2014, the county affiliate conducted a survey to collect qualitative data to gauge the impact and effectiveness of Habitat Greenville’s Homeownership Program on its partner families. It was an exploration into the connection between the simple, decent, affordable homeownership provided through the programming and the changes experienced by Greenville County’s families in poverty in their physical, educational, emotional, social, and financial resources. The Family Services Department sought to identify significant criteria relevant to homeowner success and to improve the performance of the program through continual learning, and thereby supporting sustainable and transformational development of both program and people. The survey was also used to test different evaluation instruments, data collection methods, and communication strategies in preparation for more rigorous evaluation of impact in the future.
The survey is the first qualitative study conducted on the impact of Habitat homeownership since HFHGC’s inception. It has since served as a baseline pilot study to narrow the areas and themes that should be targeted for future quantitative and longitudinal research.
But legitimizing HFHGC in the eyes of people who weren’t familiar with the program would require more information. For Greg Thomas, the Executive Director of the South Carolina Association of Habitat Affiliates, finding this kind of evidence for the active programs in Greenville County would have significant bearing on not only HFHGC’s significance to the county, but also to the state. “We know that we impact the lives of hundreds of families every year by providing them a safe, affordable home,” Greg said, “But what can we tell our legislators and our city or county officials about the impact we make on the local and state economies? We work hard to build alliances and relationships with our state and local governments and it seems we are always asking for their financial support. We’d like to be able to go to them and tell them that not only are we providing a great social impact and trying to affect positive changes in the state and in their districts, but we also make a positive impact on the local and state economies. We know that intuitively but we would love to be able to prove it.”
To tell the third chapter of HFHGC’s story, the organization would have to understand the economic impact that it has on Greenville County at large—not just among a few of its neighborhoods and families.
This means taking stock of the monetary investments made in its programs and operations in a given year and then following the money as it flowed and was reinvested throughout the county. In all, HFHGC invested $3,563,870 in 2016 and employed 44 full- and part-time staff. To follow the money, they worked with an economist who had access to reliable economic data for the state of South Carolina in software that could model and track results—a crucial component to conducting an economic impact analysis. Their economist used IMPLAN as the modeling tool because of its strong reputation in the economics and academic community and because “over one thousand public and private institutions use IMPLAN. It is the most widely employed and accepted regional economic analysis software for predicting economic impacts.”
With their economic data in-hand, and with the help of software that could conduct an economic impact analysis, HFHGC could find out the extent to which its programs benefitted the county.
The analysis ultimately provided HFHGC with significant impact results.
The figures presented in the Direct row of the results table (shown above) represent potential dollars of spending and changes in employment attributed directly the HFHGC’s efforts.
The figures presented in the Indirect row of the results table represent potential dollars of spending and changes in employment throughout additional sectors of the local economy attributed to intermediate business-to-business expenditures resulting from HFHGC’s efforts.
The figures presented in the Induced row of the results table represent potential dollars of household or institutional income spending, and the subsequent changes in employment resulting from it, resulting from HFHGC’s efforts.
Breaking these numbers down means that:
It’s important to point out that the economic impacts modeled by the HFHGC analysis were restricted to only the impacts which were expected to occur within Greenville County itself.
So, it’s reasonable to assume that the potential economic benefits suggested at by their study are actually conservative. The true impacts of this project might easily be larger than what the study suggests because there would undoubtedly be spillover effects from Greenville County to neighboring jurisdictions and beyond, as economic activity originating from this project could reasonably be expected to “ripple” throughout the rest of the state.
The importance of impact analysis is not a secret to economic development organizations across the nation. Ultimately, the method, and more specifically IMPLAN’s economic impact data and analytical software tool, offered the Alliance the opportunity to formulate a development strategy, model the consequences of that strategy, and then to promote it with strength using data-devised metrics. For decades, IMPLAN has proven instrumental in allowing groups like the Lynchburg Regional Business Alliance to continue promoting economic growth and improving economic health throughout their regions by helping organizations of any size or budget include economic impact analysis in their own development strategies. Economic impact analysis has always been valuable. But IMPLAN is making this once arduous task both easy and accessible to everybody.