By Rubin E. Grant
When Matt and Angela Leigh got married in 2012, they bought a three-bedroom house in the Edgewood community of Homewood across the street from Gianmarco’s Restaurant.
Matt Leigh described the house as perfect, since they didn’t have any children.
But after the birth of their daughters, Emery and Frances, now ages 5 and 3, the house quickly became too small.
“We needed more space,” Matt Leigh said.
But rather than moving elsewhere or demolishing their house to build a more spacious one, the Leighs decided to donate the house itself and build a new house on their lot.
“We liked the house a lot and didn’t want to just tear it down,” Matt Leigh said. “We saw someone moving a house down the street from us and I had never seen a house loaded and moved before.”
Leigh quickly found out about Build UP, also known as Build Urban Prosperity, a non-profit workforce training program that was founded in 2018 by Mark Martin, who is chief executive officer, has had a lengthy career in education and lives in Edgewood.
Build UP accepts donated houses and teaches children – as young as the eighth grade in its six-year program – about the construction industry, allowing them to learn a range of construction skills through rebuilding donated homes and earn academic credit. Students also earn money through renovating the houses and eventually own the homes they work on and can live in them or rent them.
Students graduate two years after a traditional high school program with certifications in a number of construction trades.
Build UP began in Ensley, but earlier this year it was selected as part of a $10 million Fannie Mae Innovation Challenge. The award, one of five proposals selected nationwide by the government-sponsored mortgage company, will allow Build UP to start enrolling students in the Titusville and Graymont areas of Birmingham.
“Students are receiving both mentorship and guidance while also developing skills along the way,” Martin said. “They also get paid, so they are learning financial literacy and budgeting at an earlier age. It exposes them to all kinds of responsibilities.”
The donated homes Build UP receives are shipped to Titusville and students then rehab the homes. Build UP accepted its first house donation in the summer of 2019 and has had several more donated from Over the Mountain, including more than 10 from Homewood, several from Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills, and one from Hoover.
“They are perfectly good homes that shouldn’t land in a landfill,” Martin said. “It’s a deal that’s working out for everyone and it’s good for the community. And it makes good economic sense since there are tax savings and they don’t have to have the expense of tearing the house down.”
The Leighs didn’t want to demolish their house, so donating it to Build UP made perfect sense.
“It was our first house and the only house our girls had known, so I got in touch with Mark and asked him about their donation program, and we took it from there,” Matt Leigh said.
Build UP teams with M.T. Kirkpatrick Housemovers to relocate the donated houses. Matt Leigh wanted to be there when they arrived to move their house on Feb. 2, but he didn’t get the chance.
On the day the house was to be moved, his youngest daughter fell and cut her ear and had to go the emergency room for stitches.
“We were there until 10 or 11 that night,” Matt Leigh recalled. “When we were returning home, we saw our house being driven down Green Springs Highway. I never thought I’d ever see something like that, but it all came together.”
The house was transported to Titusville across from Booker T. Washington K-8 School in Birmingham.
The Leighs have been living in an apartment on Broadway Street in Homewood while their new four-bedroom house is being built. He commutes to Tuscaloosa to work as director of operations for an apparel company, Southern Shirt, while Angela Leigh works as a treatment coordinator at Birmingham Orthodontics.
Both their old home and new home are almost ready for occupancy.
“What I like is that our kids can go by our old house and see it, but also that somebody gets to own it and use it for business purposes,” Matt Leigh said. “It’s a neat, novel idea.”
For more information, visit BuildUP.work.