Naked City

Homes Not Jails -- or Crops

Since purchasing Boggy Creek Farm nine years ago, organic farmers Carol Ann Sayle and Larry Butler have longed to purchase the land adjacent to their five-acre, East Austin-based spread. If the owners ever decided to sell the land, which encompasses less than an acre, Sayle and Butler had hoped they would get first dibs and use it to grow crops. But in July, after returning home from a vacation in New Mexico, the couple noticed land surveyors on the property they wanted.

Will we hear the sounds of protesters or lawyers emerge from Boggy Creek any time soon? Nope. It just so happens that the purchaser is nonprofit homebuilder Habitat for Humanity.

"It's a case of two good causes wanting the same piece of dirt," Sayle shrugs. Last week, she wrote letters to Habitat's board of directors and to executive director Pat Welch, urging them to sell the land to Boggy Creek and to accept help in locating other available land.

But Welch isn't getting his hopes up. Affordable, empty lots in East Austin are hard to find, he says, because of heirship issues and the economic downturn. Though West Austin's real-estate prices continue to fall, East Austin is still cheaper -- and therefore more attractive.

Though Sayle asserts the land was never offered publicly, Welch says it had been advertised on the Internet and through local real-estate agencies. "We didn't go to [the owner] directly and solicit her," he says. And while he understands Boggy Creek's interest in using the land for expansion, preservation, and educational purposes, Habitat has 36 families on its waiting list for new homes and no backlog of optional building spaces. "I feel for Boggy Creek," Welch says. "I guess if they could find us five lots in the next few months, we could certainly look at it."

By inviting Habitat board members out to Boggy Creek, which dates to 1839, Sayle hopes to convince them of the land's unique agricultural and historical value. She's also been talking to Council Member Daryl Slusher, who has enlisted officials of the city's housing department to help locate available property.

"You can't get more basic than food and shelter," Slusher says. "I hate to see these two things sort of competing."

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