Local businesses help Habitat create home for a family

MIDDLEBURY — Karen Holbrook was making her regular commute from Bridport to her job in Middlebury several months ago when she heard something on the radio that would change her life.
It was a news spot from Habitat for Humanity of Addison County (HHAC) seeking applicants for a new home that would soon be available in the South Ridge subdivision off Middle Road in Middlebury.
She was excited, but a little apprehensive.
“I have always been one of those people who have fallen through the cracks,” she said in referring to her income, which has proved a little too much to qualify for substantial housing subsidies, but not really enough to allow her to qualify for a decent home mortgage.
“But you never know until you check the guidelines,” she thought to herself.
It’s a good thing she checked, because Holbrook and her three children will be moving into their new, 1,500-square-foot, Cape-style home before the end of this year. It will be the eighth home to have been spearheaded by HHAC, and this one is benefitting from some particularly generous donations from two Middlebury businesses.
Connor Homes is donating the shell of the Holbrooks’ home that will be erected at a 0.7-acre South Ridge lot that is being provided, at a substantially reduced cost, by Middle Road Ventures.
Connor Homes has become nationally renowned for its process of working with clients to design and then build — at its 118,000-square-foot Middlebury headquarters — classic American homes that are then shipped in pieces and assembled on location.
Middle Road Ventures is the developer of South Ridge, a 58-lot subdivision off Middle Road near Middlebury Union Middle School. Charlie Kireker, principal of MRV, said the company has made a commitment to the town of Middlebury to try and make South Ridge as diverse a neighborhood as possible.
“We believe Habitat for Humanity is an important organization, both globally and in the community, and that it does great work,” Kireker said.
Habitat for Humanity is a self-described “nonprofit, ecumenical Christian ministry that builds with people in need regardless of race or religion; we welcome volunteers and supporters from all backgrounds.”
Benefitting families are expected to put “sweat equity” into construction of their homes, to the tune of 200 hours per adult. Habitat works out a mortgage that fits within the recipient’s budget, with a general guideline that the household is not paying more than 30 percent of its income toward payback on its new abode.
“We search for families that need a hand up, not a hand out,” said HHAC President Joe Smith.
Holbrook said that she and her children are looking forward to living in a “clean, safe and spacious new home and being part of a wonderful community” in the South Ridge development.
Her children are Stephen, 18; Holly, 13; and Jared, 11. Stephen continues to recover from a traumatic brain injury, so the extra space and scenic surroundings will be extra appreciated, according to his mom.
“I can’t thank them enough; it’s really hard to put into words,” Holbrook said of her gratitude to HHAC, Connor Homes and Middle Road Ventures. “It’s really exciting.”
She noted the home will be convenient to her work, shopping and Middlebury public schools. That means fuel savings. And we’re not only talking about less money needed for car fuel. The Holbrooks’ home will be super-insulated and energy efficient.
“This is a home that will use 60 percent of the energy that a code-built house would,” Smith said.
Connor Homes workers made sure to build the home to meet the expectations of both the family and HHAC. A downstairs study/library area that usually comes with the cape-style residence was changed to become a fourth bedroom, according to Rowan Nelson, vice president for architectural millwork for Connor Homes. There will be three additional bedrooms on the second floor to afford privacy to all four family members.
“We are extremely grateful to Connor Homes for stepping forward at this critical time to provide affordable housing for Middlebury,” said Roth “T” Tall, chairman of HHAC’s building committee.
Nelson said the company was happy to donate the home. While primarily a philanthropic gesture, Nelson said the donated home will also give the community at large an idea of what takes place within the sprawling Connor Homes headquarters off Route 7 South. The project will also give company workers some good practice in assembling the home on-site — a major task the home buyer usually assigns to a private contractor. Connor Homes workers will donate their time over several weekends to put together the Holbrooks’ home.
“It will be a team building experience outside of the production floor,” Nelson said.
He is pleased to see a chance given to a local family who might not have had qualified for a conventional home mortgage.
“I support Habitat’s mission,” Holbrook said, adding the number of players in the project is evidence “we’ve taken a community to raise a house.”
The foundation has already been poured. Once the shell of the new home is placed on the foundation, a team of Habitat volunteers will get to work. The crew — some of them retired builders — will be in charge of such chores as insulation, siding, roofing drywall, electricity, plumbing and kitchen work.
“It is a great way to involve the whole community,” Smith said. “You’re doing more than hammering some nails; you’re helping a family.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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