Habitat for Humanity finishes fifth local home

MIDDLEBURY — Habitat for Humanity of Addison County (HHAC) on Saturday, April 17, officially turned over the keys to its fifth home — a three-bedroom abode off Weybridge Street in Middlebury that will provide affordable shelter for a single mom and her four young children.
The organization will now turn its attention to finding another, low-cost building lot so volunteers can get started on home number six. John Jefferies, chairman of the HHAC board, said the organization is exploring some potential house lots in Vergennes and Cornwall.
“We are investigating,” Jefferies said on Thursday. “But the chances of getting (another project) going this year are pretty slight.”
Indeed, land has been the chief obstacle for HHAC in adding more completed homes to its portfolio. Addison County land tends to command hefty prices.
“We have to buy it inexpensively,” Margaret Carothers, a charter member of the HHAC board, said of the need for the organization to acquire land at a bargain price in order to be able to transfer it, and a home, to a needy couple at an affordable price.
Carothers said HHAC often has to depend on donated lots, or parcels that developers might decide to carve off a planned unit development for affordable housing purposes. The Weybridge Street lot is part of the Otter View Park project, spearheaded by the Middlebury Area Land Trust. The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board stipulated, as part of a grant for the project, that one of three house lots at the site had to be earmarked for affordable housing.
Still, the initial asking price for that lot was $89,500 — not exactly the definition of “affordable” in many people’s books. Carothers said the lot’s asking price ultimately got whittled down to $40,000, including utilities.
That price, coupled with volunteer labor and very reasonably price building supplies provided by area merchants, have allowed Habitat to sell the home — at a no-interest mortgage — to the benefiting family. Jill Smith and her children are eager to move in to the Weybridge Street abode. Smith, as is required by the Habitat program, put in many “sweat equity” hours at the construction site.
A group of Middlebury College students established the HHAC chapter in 1995. It was incorporated in 1999. The chapter built its first house in Bristol in 2001, followed by a home in Middlebury in 2004; a third project in Middlebury in 2006; and a fourth completed in Bristol in 2008.
“We have sheltered seven parents and 15 children through the five homes we have built,” Carothers said with pride.
Carothers gave kudos to her fellow volunteers, which range from a very active Middlebury College student contingent to a core group of older, mostly retired community members.
“These are people from all walks of life,” Carothers said. “They are putting in some full days and are getting quite skilled.”
Habitat has an annual budget of around $50,000, according to Jefferies. The group actively seeks grants and organizes fund-raisers to generate enough up-front money to build the homes.
“I think we’re doing good work,” Jefferies said.
Anyone wanting to contribute to the HHAC effort can log on to www.middlebury.net/habitat/index.html or call 388-0400.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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