Cornwall house is a labor of love for Habitat crew

CORNWALL — With its great elementary school, sweeping vistas, stately homes and proximity to the shire town, Cornwall has earned a reputation as being one of Addison County’s “high-rent” communities.
But that script is being flipped, at least a little, thanks to the combined efforts of a group of hardworking retirees and community-minded college students. They’re working together as Habitat for Humanity of Addison County, part of an international organization devoted to building sturdy, energy-efficient homes at a bargain price for low-income families who might otherwise never own a place of their own.
This past Wednesday saw around a dozen Habitat volunteers busily toiling on a new, five-bedroom home off Cornwall’s Carothers Lane that is slated to host Ed and Shelly Shackett and their six children. The family is currently living in a four-bedroom apartment in Middlebury, spending a large chunk of their household income in rent for a space that can’t comfortably accommodate them and their bustling brood.
Ed Shackett, who works for Bridport-based S.G. Construction Inc., recently heard from a neighbor that Habitat was looking for a family to occupy a new home in Cornwall, the last of four abodes the organization is developing at the Carothers Road site. Habitat in 2011 worked with the town of Cornwall and several donors to advance the planned unit development on a 13-acre parcel, of which 11 acres will remain open.
The Shacketts went through Habitat’s standard application process, through which their income level, credit history and other related background were reviewed. Under Habitat’s income guidelines, a family of eight can qualify for a home if they have a household income of between $48,438 and $67,813. The family must be able to show a “stable employment history, evidence of an ability to manage money responsibly, and the ability to make house payments of approximately $700 to $800 a month.”
Habitat raises the money for the home, builds it, then transfers the expense to the family through a zero-interest mortgage.
Each of the adults in the family must also put in a minimum of 200 hours into the construction of the new, 1,175-square-foot home. Ed Shackett said he and his wife have both already exceeded the “sweat equity” requirement. The home is scheduled to be completed by this Thanksgiving.
And the home will be perpetually affordable; those who purchase Habitat homes can’t flip them for a huge profit.
The family was thrilled to earn a tentative OK. The children are excited to have a yard in which to play and put up a swing set.
“We’re very excited,” Shackett said. “We’re glad to know (the home) will be ours forever.”
That kind of reaction is music to the ears of Habitat volunteers, who have devoted each of their Wednesdays (and some weekend time) over the past six months to make the new affordable home become a reality. Mickey Heinecken is the current leader of this self-proclaimed band of “ancients,” who range in age from around 60 to 82. They come from diverse backgrounds. Heinecken was a successful football coach at Middlebury College. Roth “T” Tall was a longtime financial planner and fundraiser in the nonprofit world. Most of them never worked in construction before, and are thus grateful to have Harold Strassner on their team. His resume includes 28 years in facilities management at Middlebury College, followed by a teaching stint in the industrial arts department of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center.
“We’re nowhere without Harold,” Heinecken said of Strassner’s skill and building knowledge. “All of us, as volunteers, can do the labor aspects of putting a house together if we know we’re doing it right.”
It’s that donated labor and a close partnership with area businesses and construction professionals that help Habitat produce energy efficient homes at affordable mortgage rates to families of limited means. Supporting Addison County businesses, too numerous to mention in this space, are providing materials and tools at cost, and in some cases for free.
All four of the Cornwall Habitat homes were designed by local architect Jean Terwilliger of Vermont Integrated Architecture.
Efficiency Vermont works with Habitat to make sure each home is weather tight and equipped with an efficient heating system. The newest home is of double-wall construction and has a heat exchanger powered by electricity. It has copious amounts of insulation and triple-glazed windows.
“Because Habitat homes are as close to net zero as we can get, their annual heating costs might approach what they were paying in a single month,” said Tall, a longtime Habitat volunteer. “Hence, their annual savings, like their mortgage, can easily reach into the thousands. Wish I could say that about my house.”
“This house has been optimized,” Heinecken added of the effort to leave the occupants with as small a fuel bill as possible.
HABITAT FOR HUMANITY of Addison County volunteer Bruce Jenson of Brandon measures drywall last week in a new Habitat home under construction in Cornwall.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
This is the fifth Habitat home on which Strassner has toiled.
At age 74 he has no plans to slow down.
“I love to build houses,” said Strassner. “As long as Mickey keeps finding places to build and he can keep doing it, I’ll keep doing it.”
Habitat for Humanity of Addison County will next shift its focus to a project off Middlebury’s Seymour Street. The group is always looking for low-cost or free land on which to erect new homes. And the Habitat board is constantly looking for prospective homeowners. Habitat will host two upcoming information sessions for folks interested in qualifying for an affordable home.
The first session is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 2, 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Middlebury Recreation Facility off Creek Road.
The second session will be held at Bixby Memorial Library on Thursday, Oct. 4, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
For more information, visit addisonhabitat.org, call 388-0400, or email [email protected].
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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