One bright side of the tornado that hit Bowling Green last winter is that some tenants are becoming homeowners.
The deadly storm caused major damage to nearly 500 homes and apartments, displacing around 800 people. Many are still without permanent housing, but a non-profit organization will welcome families into new homes by this fall.
Among them is Ahmed Hadi who visited his family’s new townhouse being built by Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s one of the bedrooms here. It’s the living room. Upstairs you have three bedrooms and a bathroom, and a back porch,” Hadi pointed out. “It’s really nice.
Ahmed, 24, is about to become a first-time owner. The Iraqi native, who came to Bowling Green ten years ago with his family, beamed with pride this month as he walked through new construction on Regis O’Connor Boulevard.
“It’s beautiful to see,” Ahmed told WKU public radio. “Every time I come here, it makes me smile.”
Ahmed hasn’t had much to smile about since last December, when an EF-3 tornado leveled his family’s home on Moss Creek Ave.
“I was sleeping when the tornado hit. My parents woke me up from bed and told me a big storm was coming. The noise was terrifying, like a train,” he recalls. “The tornado entered our house directly and swept everything away. We were all picked up and landed in the garden.”
Ahmed’s father, Jalal Hadi, used a walker to check on the progress of the new townhouse. The rock and main supplier to the family suffered the most injuries and, eight months after the tornado, he was unable to return to his job as a mechanic. Ahmed, who works as a forklift driver, buys this house for his parents and three siblings.
“Now, after the tornado, I’m mainly responsible for a lot of things in the house because of my father’s injuries,” Ahmed said. “I have to be there for them, always.”
The Hadi family stayed in a hotel after the tornado and later found an apartment to rent. But in a few months, they’ll get the keys to that townhouse, thanks to the kindness of strangers like John Danielson.
Hurricane Clips Help Prevent Tornado Damage to Bowling Green Home
Danielson volunteers with the Bowling Green chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
“I’m learning all of this,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve driven a nail in 15 years, so I had to figure out calluses and sore muscles, and there are a lot of them.”
Danielson was on a ladder with a hammer installing what are called hurricane clips.
“In case something wants to pull the top floor up in the air, it will keep it on the first floor,” Danielson explained.
Habitat for Humanity is working on a major feat, building ten homes in ten weeks.
“House #9 is actually our 100e house that we built as an Affiliate, so we take 10% of what we’ve built since we became an Affiliate in the early 90s, in ten weeks,” said Macy Wheeler, Outreach Coordinator of Habitat.
Habitat homes are designed for the working class poor. They generally require no more than 30% of a person’s gross monthly income and mortgages are 0% interest. The homes are also designed to be very energy efficient, with electricity bills averaging around $30 per month.
“After the tornadoes happened in December, before they hit, there was already such a need for affordable housing in Bowling Green, but it really reinforced the crisis we have with affordable housing,” said Wheeler. “We wanted to do something big to not just get some people back on their feet, but also bring some spirit back to Bowling Green with the rebuilding.
According to FEMA, 65% of Bowling Green homes damaged by the tornado were rentals. But the occupancy rate of rental properties is over 90%. Available apartments are unaffordable for most displaced people, many of whom are low-income people and refugees. For this reason, Habitat volunteers are not just building structures, but hope and a source of relief. Homes will be dedicated and families can start moving in on October 1.
The ten homes will make a small dent in Bowling Green’s housing shortage. According to the Bowling Green-Warren County Planning and Zoning Commission, about 980 new units, single and multi-family, are under construction and about 500 units are being repaired as a result of the tornadoes.
However, the city needs about 2,500 to 3,000 new units per year to meet current and near-term projected demand. The need for housing will increase in the coming months with major industries on the way, including Tyson Foods and electric vehicle battery maker Envision.