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Concrete work for the foundation of the 1,416-square foot home is expected to begin on April 14. The house is located on Fourth Street in Norborne. (KMZU)

Artist rendering of the spec home. (NHRC photo)

NORBORNE, Mo.(KMZU) — When was the latest home built in Norborne? Ken Brown and Mike Craven, president and vice president of Norborne Housing Revitalization Committee, can think of just one in the past 10 years. The other newer home was after the Flood of ’93.

“So, it’s 25 years old?” Craven asks Brown. “Yeah, it’s been awhile,” Brown answers.

Predominately, cottage and cape-style homes dot the streets of Norborne, a town of around 900. Some are well-loved and maintained; others weathered — with the majority being least 75 years old when amenities were basic. It’s a situation many rural and urban communities face – made more difficult during a housing shortage.

“There a definite need, whether you want to call it a crisis or not,” Craven says. “If you look at the houses available in Norborne, there’s not any of them that are big enough for what today’s family with a couple of kids want to live in. They are 1,000 square feet, 800 square feet, they’re tiny.”

And some homes too dilapidated to repair were bulldozed, now leaving blank spaces in the western Carroll County town. But as Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”

“The vision, a lot of these lots were either empty, so not generating tax revenue and no place for families to live, or a lot of these lots needed cleaned up,” says Brown, the president of the committee. “We’re kind of checking two boxes. One, provide housing for families who do want to come back, and two, making the town look a little neater and generate a little tax revenue.”

Norborne hopes to be part of the national trend of people returning home, heightened during the pandemic. A lower cost of living, slower pace of life, being near loved ones and the ability for more people to work remotely are key reasons for the migration, experts say. City leaders want to grow its town and school district to bring more vitality and a stronger tax base.

The stately Goppert Financial Bank in the heart of the Norborne business district. Both Goppert and Home Savings & Loan provide funding to community projects and to the Norborne School District. (KMZU)

The effort build affordable family housing began with two of Norborne’s key banks executives – Jeanette Craig, president of Home Savings & Loan Association of Carroll County, and Billy Campbell, executive vice president of Goppert Financial Bank. They, along with Craven, a Goppert executive vice president, and Brown, Home Savings & Loan’s vice president, are part of a committee who’s building a spec home on one of two vacant lots the committee has purchased. The house, they say, is what most families with kids want now – a 1,416 square-foot 3-bedroom, 2-bath house with a 2-car garage by area builder Kent Rogers. The city lot is a fairly generous size, a little less than a third of an acre. The concrete slab foundation is scheduled to be poured on Wednesday, April 14, by Superior Flatwork of Lexington.

House plans were unveiled in mid-December on the committee’s Facebook page, inviting people to move to Norborne, known as the “Soybean Capital of the World,” with an annual festival celebrating the community agricultural roots each August.

“Interested in moving to small town rural Missouri? Check out the city of Norborne website to explore everything our town has to offer,” the post reads.

“I’m so excited for growth in our community,” writes Megan Armstrong on Facebook, with many “love” and “likes” emoji next to her comment.

A mural of historic Norborne was underwritten by Home Savings & Loan in a pocket park in downtown Norborne. (KMZU)

“I had one guy call me and asked me, ‘How did you get it going?’ Well, we have two generous banks. That’s what got it going.” Brown says of the two Norborne-based banks, one locally-owned for a century, the other a 75-year fixture. “We’ve had a couple local donations from people, concerned citizens, who’d like to remain anonymous, who wanted to put some money to it and help us,” Craven adds.

Those financial donations have created the “seed money” for the project, which is primarily a non-profit effort.

“Really, our goal is to provide some housing and not necessarily not make money at it. In my mind, it’s about covering the cost of the lot, the cost of cleaning up the lot and keeping enough enough seed money to build another. If we had a developer in town building houses, we wouldn’t be doing this. We’re not stepping on toes, because nobody’s building anything,” Craven says.

A hot housing market has spiked the price of lumber and building materials, which will impact the final price tag. But the committee has made a commitment and will follow through, Craven says, adding interest rates remain a historic lows.

“For a lot of people, the house is going to have to be complete for them to get it done. Otherwise, they will need a construction loan and then also an end loan if they bought it in between,” he says. Depending on finishes, Craven expects the house to sell between $175,000 to $200,000.

Even though individuals have shown interest, the spec home is still for sale.

“Once we have it boxed in, I don’t think we would have a problem if someone wanted to buy it at that time to finish it out, like wanting hardwood floors instead of carpet,” Craven says.

It took more than a decade to begin Norborne’s rebuilding plan. Norborne Housing Revitalization Committee says it’s banking on the future of its community.

“You start with one and get it up and sell it, and then we can do another one,” Craven says with Brown agreeing, “and slowly build the town up.”