In just five days, the Cape community comes together and builds a home for a family in need.
On the first fall morning of the year—a hint of summer’s warmth still lingering with the day’s bright sky—the quiet neighborhood of Harwich’s Oak Street stands in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle happening just down a narrow dirt path on that same stretch of road. Seven modest half-built homes, each situated side-by-side are nestled beyond this short path. But all the activity is directed toward 1104 Oak Street, the home at the end of this little neighborhood within a neighborhood.
Dozens of laborers work feverishly in a scene of controlled chaos. Painters climb over cabinet installers, who climb over the flooring crew, while a deck is built out back and the exterior of the home is being painted a grayish blue. The ear-piercing shrieks of construction equipment don’t break the focus of these determined workers, all volunteering their time and resources.
This house build is part of the biennial Cape Cod Blitz Build, a partnership between the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Cape Cod (HBRACC) and Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod (HHCC) that build one affordable home for one local family in need in one week (actually, just five days). Aside from pre-built framing and a foundation completed beforehand, construction on the house—a two-story, three-bedroom Cape—began the morning of Monday, September 21 and was completed that Friday, September 25. “It’s not too often you get to see something being built in five days that normally would take five months,” says Trevor Meyer, Blitz Build project manager and principal at Meyer and Sons. “It’s pretty remarkable when you step back and you look at it.”
Hundreds of individuals and businesses, including over 50 HBRACC member companies, donated their time as well as building materials, supplies and labor to the project. Many, including First Citizens’ Federal Credit Union, provided meals for the blitz builders onsite. “Everybody’s working together. All these guys are competitors; they’ll be bidding against jobs tomorrow,” says Gail O’Rourke, owner of White Wood Kitchens in Sandwich and head of the Blitz Build Steering Committee, of the HBRACC volunteers. “We’re only as good as everybody else in the field. We want to build beautiful homes, and that’s what we really are dedicated to doing.”
The home, along with the six others being built next to it, is located on more than two acres of land purchased by HHCC with grant funds awarded by the town of Harwich. The six additional homes are being built on an eight-month schedule, to be completed next spring by community volunteers working alongside the future homeowners, who must contribute their “sweat equity” as part of the home purchase. For the Blitz Builds, HHCC arranges for the building permits, site work, and underground utilities. They also provide a capped foundation and are responsible for the design of the home. HBRACC’s building professionals take it from there, completing everything needed for the construction of the home.
HHCC selects the home buyers, families with critical housing needs who qualify by having incomes at or below 65 percent of the median income and the ability to pay a monthly low-or no-interest mortgage payment between $625 and $775, depending on house size and the mortgage term. Wendy Cullinan, HHCC’s director of resource development, explains that once Habitat knows they will be building a home, applications are open for 60 days. A team of HHCC volunteers then determines who of those applicants qualify, and for everyone who does qualify, Cullinan says their names are put in a bucket and the recipient’s name drawn at random. “Once everyone qualifies, then they’re all equal,” she says.
The Vasquez family, comprised of Alberto, Olivia, and their three children—two-year-old twins, William and Jacob, and infant daughter Daisy—are the recipients of the 2015 Blitz Build home. At the home’s dedication ceremony on September 26, the surrealness of seeing the house—their house—completed hits Alberto and Olivia. “It’s crazy,” Olivia says. “We’re just so happy, and we’re beyond excited.”
The family of five previously lived with Olivia’s parents and shared one small bedroom, so it’s no surprise they are looking forward to finally having a space of their own. The Vasquez family’s good fortune couldn’t have come at a better time. Alberto’s father passed away on the same day Habitat volunteers interviewed the family about their housing needs, and around the time they applied for the house, Alberto and Olivia discovered that one of Daisy’s kidneys is covered in cysts, a condition called Multicystic Dysplastic Kidney. Doctors say she will be fine, even if she has to live with one kidney.
For Alberto and Olivia, the new home truly feels like a gift from God. “It’s just really proof that, through prayer, anything is possible,” says Alberto. “God answered our prayers,” Olivia adds. “It’s just a blessing.”
How the 2015 Blitz Build home came together in just five days is a testament, say Meyer, O’Rourke, and HBRACC Executive Officer Christine Duren, to the year-long planning in advance. “It’s an amazing organizational process,” Duren says, with the planning team meeting once a month for 12 months to arrange for supplies, schedule professional crews, and raise the necessary funds. “It went from foundation to weather-tight in one day,” she says. And on day five, they had a certificate of occupancy by noon.
“It’s a very demanding schedule,” says O’Rourke, with 75 hours of work in total needed to complete the home in the five-day period, “and we’re really asking a lot of the people that donate labor and time to be here late, come early, to bring their entire crew—not just one or two guys. When they are here they have to just get in and hustle and get it done.”
This year’s Build presented its own unique set of challenges. Being a two-story house as opposed to a ranch like the first Cape Cod Blitz Build home—built in Orleans in 2013—Duren says a lot more went into this project, including a staircase and more framing. Last time around, framing was built on the first day, but this year Anderson Framing pre-built the walls at Mid-Cape Home Centers in Orleans on August 7, over a month before the build began.
Having a Blitz Build already under their belt proved to be an asset to organizers this year, knowing what didn’t work last time and where adjustments needed to be made this time. “This year we learned stuff that we will make adjustments for in two years,” O’Rourke says.
In addition to providing housing for those in need, the Blitz Build project also aims to bring awareness to the lack of work-force housing and need for affordable housing on the Cape. “What many visitors—and even many residents—don’t fully grasp is the gap between local wages and the cost of housing,” says Victoria Goldsmith, executive director of HHCC. Goldsmith explains that people who live here year-round and who predominately work in industries such as tourism, construction, and services receive low-paying wages. She says housing prices on the Cape, however, are essentially driven by the incomes of individuals living here who’ve made their money elsewhere.
“We have a continuing challenge on the Cape,” Goldsmith says, “and we have a lot of people living in doubled-up circumstances, living with families, living in very unstable conditions, overcrowded conditions, people who have to move yearly because their rentals expire.” Goldsmith also raises the issue of land scarcity on the Cape—since much land is saved for parklands and conservation areas—and Duren mentions how there is only one- to two-acre zoning here, zoning that is not conducive to building higher density, cluster-type housing developments. Duren hopes that the Blitz Build brings “tangible” awareness to these issues of housing.
“This is one way for us to give back to the community, a way for us to bring awareness to the issue in hopes of changing some hearts and minds that having homes that are affordable are still beautiful homes, and we need to find ways to do more of that,” Duren says.
From blessings and prayers, to the approximately 50 community members joining hands, to the Vasquez boys running through the new home, the Blitz Build dedication ceremony that crisp Saturday afternoon is an inspiring one. Bob Ryley, HHCC director of construction, sums up the project best: “You have done much more than build a house in one week,” he said, addressing the many volunteers on hand. “What you’ve done is provide for this family’s security, shelter, independence, and a safe place to raise their children—a place they will be proud to call home.”