Nonprofit breaks ground on first new Fulton home not built by Habitat for Humanity in 15 years
A groundbreaking ceremony Monday for a Fulton home is being hailed as a sign of things to come in terms of economic development in the far western Kentucky community.
Officials say that outside of Habitat for Humanity projects, the home is the first to be newly built in the city in 15 years. Lexington-based nonprofit Community Ventures is developing and financing the residence for Fulton native Ruby Burton, who applied for the opportunity to design and purchase it.
Fulton County Judge-Executive Jim Martin said “economic decline” – spurred on by population loss and the closure of multiple large-scale job providers – over the course of decades is the major reason for the lack of newly built homes in Fulton.
“Jobs went away, and they never came back,” Martin said. “What we've got to do now is create an environment so investors will come back into the community and invest in job creating businesses … and then we got to create an environment where people want to come back here and be a part of it. It sounds easy, but it's really complicated because a lot of things get in the way.”
The judge-executive said this first home is just the beginning when it comes to economic development plans for the area and proclaimed Burton – who will be paying the mortgage on the home – “the first investor” in Fulton’s future.
“This house is the tip of the arrow that's going to restart our economy here in Fulton County,” Martin said. “[Housing] is not a Democrat issue. It's not a Republican issue. This is an American issue, and it's bipartisan. And the folks in Washington and in Frankfort are partnering with us to help make this happen [through the Rural Partners Network]. If you've noticed, looking around Fulton in the last couple of weeks, we've actually got heavy equipment in town doing something rather than tearing things down – they're building things.”
The project came about through connections made possible by the Rural Partners Network, of which Fulton is a member community. RPN is an “all-of-government” program that aims to connect local officials directly with federal agencies and officials to help them find resources and funding to create jobs, fund and build infrastructure and support long-term economic stability.
Fulton City Manager Mike Gunn said the home is the first of many to come, as community stakeholders hope to focus on housing through the RPN program.
“It's bittersweet to be able to stand here and say, we're finally building back after we've been tearing down,” he said.
Fulton – along with its twin city of South Fulton, Tennessee – was chosen to be a part of the first cohort of this federal program last year.
Brenda Weaver is the president of housing and lending for Community Ventures. She said seeing Burton’s reaction at the groundbreaking was special.
“It’s days like today that make all of that important and make us love what we do,” Weaver said. “This is what it's all about: seeing somebody finally achieve their dream and be able to accomplish what they've worked so hard for.”
Weaver said Community Ventures is in Fulton for the “long term” and plans on doing multiple community development projects in the area, including working to grow and develop small businesses.
According to the University of Kentucky’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky, there are just over 3,300 homes in Fulton County. Of those, 92% were built before the year 2000.
A University of Kentucky housing assessment study indicated that Fulton is tied for 13th among Kentucky’s 120 counties in terms of the highest demand for housing. Calloway County ranked the highest.
Fulton-Hickman Counties Economic Development Partnership Board director Mark Welch said low housing stock isn’t a problem just his community is facing and he hopes that this first home can help it build momentum.
“Nobody has housing stock. Murray doesn't, Paducah doesn't, Fulton doesn't. So that's ubiquitous, but what's unique to Fulton is that the condition of housing is an indication of the overall economic issues,” Welch said. “Especially for middle class Americans, the easiest and most productive way to produce wealth is homeownership. When [Ruby] sticks the key in the door, she's going to have some equity. But, beyond that, she's going to be the proud owner of a home – and I think the first of many new homeowners in this community – which builds pride.”
Burton – a lifelong renter – is excited to soon own her first home. She believes a development like this is a sign of things to come in the community.
“It then went down from over the years, but it’s going to come back,” she said. “Once this house goes up, it's gonna come back.”
Now, Burton said she looks forward to having her grandchildren over once the build is complete.
“Something pretty’s about to be sitting there,” Burton said of the east Fulton lot she’s soon to call home. “It's been a slow process, but like they say good things come to those who wait.”