Habitat for Humanity builds first of four homes in Cornwall

CORNWALL — Angela McCluskey had grown tired of seeing her son Jonathan turn in for the night on the living room couch in their small apartment while she and her daughter Caitlin got to sleep in beds.
So McCluskey took what she believed was a long shot: She applied to become the owner of one of four new Habitat for Humanity homes to be built within a 13-acre subdivision off Cornwall’s Delong Road.
“When I sent the application in, I never thought I would qualify,” McCluskey said. “But as the process went on, my hopes started to rise.”
She was ecstatic last summer when Habitat for Humanity of Addison County (HHAC) selected her to own the home, which she and her two children began occupying on May 19 after contributing many hours of labor during the construction process.
“I love it, and the kids love it,” she said of the two-story, 1,500-square-foot, saltbox-style home.
“And Jonathan was the one who got to choose his room first in the new house.”
It’s Addison County Habitat’s sixth home, located in Cornwall’s first-ever affordable housing subdivision. The Cornwall Planning Commission approved the Habitat subdivision in June of 2011. The homes will all be built on 0.5-acre lots, with the remaining 11 acres to remain open. Habitat identified the names of more than 1,100 potential contributors in 17 county towns as part of a $375,000 fundraising effort to build the four homes and related infrastructure within three or four years.
Bob Coffey, president of HHAC, said construction on the McCluskey home took around a year to complete, involved more than 100 volunteers, and went quite smoothly. Local church groups, Middlebury College students, area contractors, carpenters and residents handy with a hammer all pitched in and were pleased to pass the keys over to McCluskey at a May 18 ceremony at the home.
“It takes a village,” Coffey said of the communal effort to build the home. “Angela is going to make a great neighbor.”
As a condition of her acquisition of the home, McCluskey had to spend at least 200 hours working on the abode, and she estimates she put in around 250. The Habitat crews assembled on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Many local businesses contributed supplies at cost or at a reduction to drive down the final price of the home, which Coffey placed at around $120,000. That makes for affordable mortgage payments for McCluskey, who works in the Addison County Transit Resources finance office. In order to qualify, an applicant cannot earn more than 70 percent of the county’s median household income. In Addison County, that translates to a $50,000 income limit for a family of four, according to Coffey.
Habitat houses are sold to partner families at no profit. The organization carefully selects homeowners who must have a steady income; must be unable to access a conventional bank mortgage; and must be living in substandard, overcrowded or unaffordable housing. It’s a model that depends on volunteer labor, professional service, low-cost materials and financial contributions from local donors as well as public and private grants. This allows partner families to purchase the homes through no-profit, no-interest mortgage loans or innovative financing methods.
Founded by Millard and Linda Fuller in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry. The organization’s mission is to “eliminate poverty housing and homelessness from the world and to make decent shelter a matter of conscience and action,” according to the Vermont Habitat website, www.vthabitat.org.
On Oct. 3, 2012, Habitat celebrated building its 600,000th home worldwide. Vermont’s 12 Habitat affiliates have built a combined total of 141 affordable homes that are accommodating 400 people. Those homeowners pay more than $250,000 annually in property taxes, according to Vermont Habitat literature.
Coffey said Habitat will soon break ground for the second of the four homes in the Cornwall subdivision. Anyone interested in participating in the building effort, or who would like to be considered as the future homeowner, should contact Coffey at [email protected]. Just as in McCluskey’s case, a Habitat selection committee will review the homeowner applications.
Meanwhile, McCluskey and her children are enjoying their new home. And McCluskey is hoping to soon make her mark outdoors.
“It’s going to be a little longer before we can plant flowers, but I’m looking forward to the yard work,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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