A home at last

MIDDLEBURY - Sometimes a home of your own, and the security a new dwelling - a comfortable, safe place to call your own - can be a springboard to a whole new lifestyle.

Habitat for Humanity of Addison County (HFHAC) has been offering a fresh start and a new home to qualifying Addison County families since 1997, when a group of interested citizens formed a steering committee to investigate community interest in starting a local chapter of the organization.

Middlebury College student Jennifer Jensen, then president of the college chapter of Habitat for Humanity, based her thesis on the housing needs in Addison County. She discovered that upwards of 21 percent of homeowners and nearly 40 percent of renters were paying more that 30 percent of their gross income for housing and that almost 5 percent of the housing in Addison County was deemed substandard by HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). Jensen decided to explore whether there was local interest to form an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity to address these issues. After 18 months of working through the steps leading to affiliation Habitat for Humanity of Addison County was ready to begin its first project.

To date, HFHAC has built five houses in Addison County. The process begins by advertising in the local media, followed by the selection of a family meeting the basic criteria: they must live or work in Addison County, they must be living in unsuitable, overcrowded or unsafe housing; they must be able to pay the no-interest mortgage; and they must be willing to partner with Habitat for Humanity. Families are required to provide a modest down payment and provide at least 200 hours of "sweat equity" work per adult by helping with the construction and finish work.

Habitat for Humanity homes are built by volunteers, although contractors may be hired for specialized work such as electrical and plumbing. Donations of money and materials make their mission possible and HFHAC is currently undertaking a capital fund drive to raise funds to underwrite the purchase of land in Cornwall with the potential to develop four lots. They are working with Cornwall's Planning Commission and hope to obtain assistance from an affordable housing fund to reduce the cost of the lots, thus reducing the sale price. The average cost of a Habitat home in Addison County is about $100,000.

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