July 5, 2010; Source: WRTV Indianapolis | Habitat for Humanity and Noblesville Airport have squared off over six vacant lots in this small Indiana community. Habitat received approval for the construction of two affordable homes directly east of the airport runway, but the Department of Transportation, spurred on by the airport owner, is opposing construction on the remaining lots.

“I don’t want an airplane engine to quit on takeoff and hit a house and kill a single mother and two small children,” the airport owner, Don Roberts, contended. He compared building near the end of the runway to building a house 10 feet from the end of a railroad track. The last accident causing a death at the airport was in 1988 when a plane burst into flames at the end of the runway and killed four people.

Habitat bought the lots for a reasonable price and got the FAA and the state to approve construction on the first two, receiving assurances that construction there was safe. The neighborhood homeowner association also weighed in on behalf of the airport, expressing concern about safety, but then noted, “we’ve got foreclosures . . . (so) put some good people in those houses.” That could be homeowner association code for opposition to very low-income families who typically occupy Habitat homes—but it may not.

The airport owner’s concern may well be liability, though the nine takeoffs and landings a day during the summer at the airport don’t add up to a lot of air traffic. This controversy is an example of how complex the issues are for many nonprofits, even when it comes to the “simple” construction of two affordable homes.—Rick Cohen