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Volunteers begin work on Habitat for Humanity project

  • Bike & Build volunteers raise a wall they framed at a Habitat for Humanity home build site in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, June 14, 2022. The Bike & Build volunteers will bike from Portsmouth, N.H., to Bellingham, Wash., over the course of three months, working on 13 build sites along the way. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity project manager John Heath, center, looks at build plans with Earth Share Construction project developer Katie Glidden, left, and lead carpenter Peet Danen, at a home build site in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, June 14, 2022. Earth Share Construction will be installing trusses for the home. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Bike & Build volunteer Kelly Smith, of Indianapolis, screws boards together to frame a window for a Habitat for Humanity home in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, June 14, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

  • Volunteers from Bike & Build break for lunch while working on a Habitat for Humanity home build project in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, June 14, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ernie Rosales, of New York City, cuts boards to size while working with a Bike & Build crew to frame the walls of Habitat for Humanity home in Lebanon, N.H., on Wednesday, June 14, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/19/2022 10:34:38 PM
Modified: 6/20/2022 10:18:48 AM

LEBANON — With housing costs at astronomical levels across the region, Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity continues its mission of providing homes to qualifying low- and moderate-income families.

But the organization hasn’t escaped the upheaval brought on by the pandemic and the subsequent supply chain disruptions and inflation.

Habitat for Humanity had a family chosen to take ownership of its latest Lebanon house being built on Meriden Road, but when COVID-19 upended life, the family came up with other plans.

“With the pandemic, a lot of people just decided to do other things,” said Project Manager John Heath. “We’re back on track now and we have this project rolling.”

Eva Loomis, executive director of the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity, said 24 families applied to buy the house, although a few were disqualified for falling outside income limits. From that initial pool, eight received further review. Now the organization has narrowed its search to four applicants who are being considered as finalists.

“Our family committee is reviewing applications right now,” Loomis said. “Obviously we can only select one, which is a really difficult thing.”

Because of the area’s high cost of living, property taxes and increases in construction costs, Upper Valley Habitat had to adjust its income requirements. Habitat for Humanity is a national organization, and in most places, qualifying families need to earn 30% to 80% of the area’s median income, depending on family size and county.

Because of the high cost of living in the Upper Valley, including property taxes and other expenses, the qualifying income for the Lebanon house had to be raised to between 60% and 80% of the area’s median income — between $52,800 and $70,400.

“The families we work with are very much every day working families,” Loomis said. “There’s no way a family on the lower end of the spectrum could afford a home in the Upper Valley.”

Heath said finding the right family isn’t just a matter of finding someone with the right financial needs and abilities.

“We’re looking at a good match,” Heath said, gesturing to a nearby home where a single woman with two kids moved in close to a decade ago.

“It depends on the demographics too, and we’re targeting a certain demographic,” Heath said. “We’re looking for a couple or a single mom with a couple of kids, probably for this one.”

The family must put hundreds of hours of labor into the house and then buy it with a 0% interest mortgage, to repay the cost to build the structure.

Habitat’s tradition of using volunteer labor can save 40% off the cost of construction, Heath said. That volunteer labor could come from as many as 100 different individuals during the Lebanon build, which Heath expects to complete in early- to mid-winter.

And a recent Habitat home in Sharon required nearly 300 volunteers for a larger, more complex dwelling.

Another Habitat for Humanity being built in Randolph recently took applications from families, although the deadline to apply has passed.

Those four primary criteria are: a need for shelter, a willingness to work at least 300 hours on the build, the ability to pay a mortgage, and living in the Upper Valley for the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

Loomis said partnering with Habitat allows families to qualify for a mortgage they may not otherwise receive.

“I think there’s a common misconception that we give away homes,” Loomis said. “We don’t. This family worked for it. They put in 300 equity hours, they swing a hammer alongside community volunteers, and then they purchased the home and they pay us, usually, a 30-year mortgage. All of the mortgages on our books are interest free, so they pay no interest.”

Habitat projects have faced the same hurdles that other construction projects have faced.

The cost of materials and the prices charged by subcontractors have driven the price of the house up 30 to 40% over pre-COVID-19 levels. And materials that used to arrive in three weeks are now taking as many as 12 weeks to arrive, Heath said.

Heath said the three-bedroom, one bath, 1,180-square-foot home on Meridan Road took longer to break ground on than planned.

“We’ve had a lot of hiccups with the pandemic,” Heath said.

The house will be the third Habitat for Humanity construction on that property, sitting close to two very similar homes nearby.

The house will feature 6 inches of insulation under the concrete slab, 12 inches in the walls and 24 inches in the ceiling. Coupled with solar panels to help run a heat pump and heat exchanger, the cost to heat the home will likely only be a few hundred dollars a year, Heath said.

“It’ll use little or no energy so it’ll be a real asset to the homeowner for utilities costs, especially with the price of oil the way it is,” Heath said. “It should be net zero.”

The Upper Valley home held a ground-breaking earlier this month and began framing the walls last week after professional subcontractors prepared the build site and laid the concrete foundation in early May.

For the first day of construction last week, the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity had a crew with Bike and Build, a nonprofit program that sends young adults on cross-country bike trips while working to raise awareness of the housing affordability crisis.

The 21 riders are riding from Portsmouth, N.H., to Bellingham, Wash.

Wolf Schuchert, one of four trip leaders on the ride, said they left June 12 and spent the night in Concord and New London before arriving in Lebanon on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, they were framing the house in the late spring sun. Thursday, they were back in the saddle and peddling to Rochester, N.Y.

Schuchert said the crew of 17 participants and four trip leaders have the adventure of a cross-country bicycle trip combined with a passion for affordable housing.

There are three routes across the country and a regional ride in the Pacific Northwest. Schuchert rode a different route in 2019 and as soon as the ride was over, they signed up to be a trip leader.

“When I finished that trip, pretty much immediately, I applied to lead,” Schuchert said. “I wanted to be able to help guide other people to be able to go on their own potentially transformative adventure.”

The rides were wiped out in 2020 and 2021.

“It’s about inspiring young adults to be more civically minded and engaged and empowering them through this bike trip,” Schuchert said. “And also exposing them and giving them the opportunity to become more educated on affordable housing issues, and spreading the word about the crisis. We really try to get a good balance of all of those components.”

Each participant raises $5,000 through fundraising and attend training sessions and volunteer to learn skills before the trip and to gain perspective.

Riders generally range in age from 18 to 29, with the riders in Lebanon skewing toward the older end of that scale.

Saskia Kuehl, 27, of Portland, Ore., said the service aspect of the trip was meaningful to her.

A nurse for the past five years, Kuehl said she’s seen the health impacts of people who don’t have adequate housing.

“It’s certainly a nationwide crisis,” Kuehl said. “I see populations dealing with the affordable housing crisis and how it affects other aspects of your life. It’s like, do I eat or do I have a roof over my head? Do I pay for my medications? Or do I have a roof over my head? it’s an intricate and complex issue.”

Claire Davis is 26 and works in hospitality as an event coordinator.

Davis said that like a lot of people, she was reevaluating her life after the pandemic. She was familiar with the group and had been following them for about a decade.

“After the pandemic, I think a lot of people kind of reevaluated their life and what was important to them and what do they want to do and, you know, like, kind of living life to the fullest, right? I decided, yeah, this is, this is something I really want to do.”

Davis said finding a way to help people at the bottom of the economic ladder is key.

“Obviously, we all know it’s a crisis,” Davis said. “There are no homes to buy and home prices are skyrocketing. But, are we thinking about people who are at the very bottom of the tier who were already being pushed out of their neighborhoods and pushed out of their homes? It was always unattainable to them. And now, it’s unattainable to the middle class. We’re not going in the right direction.”

The riders are cycling 30 to 100 miles per day with 70-miles per day the average.

For more information about the Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity organization, log on to https://www.uvhabitat.org.

Darren Marcy can be reached at dmarcy@vnews.com or 802-291-4992.




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