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Wednesday, September 16, 2015 - 12:09pm

More Questions For An Experiment In Deconstructing Blight

The Macon Area Habitat for Humanity Deconstruction Crew takes apart the second house in the experimental program on San Carlos Avenue in the Lynmore Estates Neighborhood of Macon. Four months elapsed between the first house and the second, so this crew came from crew leader Jerry Raffezeder's for-profit business rather than the pool of hard to hire applicants that filled out the original crew. Grant Blankenship/Georgia Public Broadcasting


Two days into taking apart this house on San Carlos Avenue in Macon, and already the place is down to its skeleton.

This is the second house in the Macon Area Habitat for Humanity experiment in blight deconstruction. At its most basic, the idea is to recycle as much of old houses as possible while putting to work people who have a hard time finding or holding down jobs.

There’s an assembly line taking wood from the front to the back where nails that held the place together are systematically knocked back out.

Jerry Raffezeder is leading this work site. He says this second experimental house is coming down quicker than the first. The crew learned a few things the first time out.

“This one I am going to have done by Friday. So total of four days,” he said.

The first house came down in twice that time. This house has plenty of wood to salvage and sell in the Habitat ReStore, too.

“I want to say 90-95 percent of this will be repurposed,” Raffezeder said.

At the first house, seventeen tons of material were recycled. That reduced landfilled waste for the home by about a third. Close to 5,000 feet of wood boards were recovered and resold for $2,000. All of that was done by a crew of men who were used to being turned away by traditional employers. One of them moved on to a full time job with Habitat for Humanity.


Nails stud wood that is good enough to resell and reuse from the second house in the experimental Macon Area Habitat for Humanity Deconstruction Project. Grant Blankenship/Georgia Public Broadcasting


So far, so good, right? Well, maybe, says Wanzina Jackson. As the head of the Macon-Bibb County Office of Economic and Community Development, she’s watching the project on behalf of the County. She says this is only one data point. It’s not enough to take to the County Commission as a blight solution.

“We kind of felt that we needed to do two or three more projects really to get somewhat of a synopsis as to how viable it was going to be,” Jackson said.

For Habitat, getting to that second project wasn’t easy.

The nine thousand dollars the County kicked in on the first house was set aside in the last fiscal year. However, the nothing was set aside then for subsequent experiments. The county does have ten million dollars in bond money earmarked for blight, but the County Commission is still debating how to spend it. So far they have not freed up cash for this deconstruction experiment.

Macon Area Habitat For Humanity Executive Director Harold Tessendorf said Habitat got that second house in the deconstruction pipeline on their own.

“This was a property that was donated to us,” he said. “And through some other in kind donations and that we were able to get it tested and abated for the hazards.”

The County did help by leaving a dumpster for reusable concrete. That will be free material for new road base at the County landfill.


Kevin Campbell knocks nails out of reusable wood behind the second Habitat deconstruction house. Campbell also has a pneumatic denailing tool that spits nails out when it can be used. Still, keeping up with the steady stream of wood as it comes off the house is a tough job. Grant Blankenship/Georgia Public Broadcasting


Jerry Raffezeder said getting rolling on the second house took too long. There were four months between house number one and house number two.

He said that kind of downtime just won’t work for the guys he is trying to work with.

“See guys have got to work each and every day,” he said. “I mean they have to eat everyday.”

His first crew has scattered. Everyone on site is from Raffezeder’s construction business. He said he misses Rahjon Sandifer, nicknamed Sand Man, from that first crew. It was Sandifer’s first ever nine to five job. He had been referred by his parole officer.

“Sand Man was making great strides and there's a place still here for him, when we can find him,” Raffezeder said.

Which should be as easy as calling him on the phone. But when Raffezeder calls, Sandifer doesn’t answer.

“Well no it's not that,” Raffezeder said. “I don't think he's had the money to keep his phone up. There's a big difference. That's a man who wants to work but who has literally run out of funds.”

Even with these obstacles, Habitat will soon present the data from this second house to Wanzina Jackson and the County. Still, Jackson said she isn’t sure what she’s seeing.

“Should this be a job program or should this be a salvageable type program?” she said.

And when would either of these goals look better than hiring contractors to knock houses down?

Meanwhile, Macon Area Habitat has a third house they plan to deconstruct in a month without County help.


Chris Baxter pries a window frame loose from the front of the second Macon Area Habitat for Humanity Deconstruction Project house in San Carlos Avenue in Macon. Grant Blankenship/Georgia Public Broadcasting