‘Blitz’ project builds home and hope
For the third time, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod teams up with Habitat for Humanity to change a family’s life in just one week
Remember in college when you moved into an apartment with slanted floors and peeling paint just to be sure you could pay rent? Maybe you took a second job at some point to help pay off your mortgage. You may cut back on expenditures now and again to feel more secure with your home payments. Housing insecurity is one of the biggest issues facing a global population as well as our local community here on the Cape and Islands. Roughly one in six Americans are in need of affordable housing, but that’s more than just a number. It’s a person—a child, mother, neighbor, friend, relative. An affordable home allows financial room for other necessities, keeping families from having to make impossible decisions between essential needs like rent or food.
Dr. Greg Goldstein of the World Health Organization once commented, “Perhaps the question is not, ‘Can we afford to provide decent housing and basic services for all humans?’ Rather, it is, ‘Can we—the human species—afford not to?’” His words cut to the heart of Habitat for Humanity, a volunteer-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing those in need of an affordable living space with homes and, perhaps more importantly, communities. Homeowners are responsible for a mortgage and work alongside volunteers to create a livable space for themselves. This “sweat equity” is no less than 250 hours of work for a single adult household, according to Habitat for Humanity Cape Cod Director Vicki Goldsmith. Habitat homes are not handouts, but rather opportunities, giving families the space and comfort to work toward a more secure lifestyle and prosperous future.
This year, the Cape Cod chapter of Habitat for Humanity undertook a massive task: changing one family’s life, in what is known as the “Blitz Build.” The Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod (HBRACC), a team of dedicated professional volunteers, partners with Habitat to build a home for a local family in just under one week. “There’s no doubt that living on Cape Cod is expensive, and there’s a low availability of affordable housing,” says project manager Matt York of York Construction. “This event is important because it lets people know that despite all the negativity in the world, there are people that want to help give others a better life.”
The 2017 Blitz Build is the third biennial event on Cape Cod, and the entire undertaking is donated by local and national suppliers, professionals, and labor crews. “A project like this puts a spotlight on the challenges for working people on Cape Cod. It gives us the opportunity to talk about the disparity between local wages and housing prices here, and to do so in a manner that brings the community and local businesses—companies that are normally competing against one another—together to work collaboratively,” says Goldsmith. The project requires outstanding coordination, cooperation and, most prominently, compassion. A family’s life is changed in just five days, but the effects are lifelong.
Habitat for Humanity builds homes across the world, and occasionally those homes go through multiple owners, changing the lives of numerous families. “The deed to a Cape Cod Habitat home has an Affordable Deed Rider attached, a formula by which a price will be established for the house in the future at a rate that is affordable by the standards of tomorrow’s dollar,” explains Goldsmith. Tara Cronin, who has recently become the volunteer services manager for Habitat for Humanity, bought a Habitat home back in 2009 through the Cape-based Housing Assistance Corporation. “We were living in an apartment at the time and paying very high rent,” says Cronin. “I’ve lived on Cape Cod since I was a kid, and I love raising my children here.” Purchasing a Habitat home gave Cronin the opportunity to continue living and working in an area she loves and that is close to her family. “I’ve always been passionate about affordable homes,” she says. “When I was in my twenties, I had a child, a job—or three—and went to school full time. During this time, I lived in winter rentals, with roommates, or with family off and on, and it was so hard. I knew no matter how much money I saved, it would never be enough to rent or purchase a decent home on Cape Cod, where my family lived.”
Habitat helped Cronin finally afford a beautiful home where she continues to live with her three children—one older daughter and twins—as well as her two cats and two dogs. She calls the home her “forever home,” commenting that it’s the only place she’s ever lived where she’s taken the time to paint all the walls because she knows she’s there to stay. “I’m very lucky,” she says. “I’ve learned that the volunteers are everything. They are Habitat. My house was built by incredible people with love and well wishes. The work that Habitat is doing is what will keep hard working people and young families on Cape Cod—the ones who work in the service industry, in banks, building houses, teaching children. When they have a safe, affordable place to stay, they are in a position to contribute more to the local economy and to help others.”
Melissa Wheeler is another lifelong Cape resident whose life was changed by Habitat. Four years ago, she was given the chance to return to her roots and her family in Truro. She braved her fear of heights to help shingle the roof of her new home, all while working three jobs and raising two children. Becoming a Habitat homeowner allowed her to become an active member of her community and to start a successful business, Cape Cod Cleaning Collaborative. “A big part of who I am now and who I’m raising my children to be is a fearless woman,” she says. “I was afraid to fail, afraid that there wasn’t a place for me in my hometown, afraid that I was sacrificing all my time working and not getting ahead. My life was not balanced, but this house gave me a safe, healthy place to live and the opportunity to take calculated risks.”
Wheeler’s Truro home is situated on Yellow Brick Road. She jokes that the name of the road is fitting for the fantasy life that Habitat has provided her. Hearing her talk about her home makes it clear just how much Habitat changed the course of her life. “When we first moved in, we marveled at the bathtub and the 17 doors,” she explains. “Before, I bathed my babies in the sink and the only door in our apartment was the bathroom door.” Wheeler says that the neighborhood kids come by so often that they’ve had to add a bike rack, perhaps the most telling indication of how her family has put roots down in their village community. In Wheeler’s own fearless words, “For Cape Cod to be successful, we need to address the housing epidemic and the labor crisis plaguing the area. Without young, working families and the opportunity for future generations to live here, we’re just a beach.”
Ken Eldridge—who moved with his family from a two-bedroom apartment housing six people to a Habitat home in Chatham when he was about eight years old—is a perfect example of how living in a secure and functional home truly gives you the opportunity to focus on other aspects of life, and to worry less. “Habitat is a great opportunity for families in need,” he says. “For us, moving to a Habitat home gave us room and stability to develop and be kids. That’s hard to do in a tiny apartment.” Eldridge now works for Stonewood Products, a company that has been an integral supporter of the Blitz Build projects since the beginning. “I’ll never forget what Habitat did for me and my family,” he says. “And now that I work with a company that is so supportive of Habitat, it’s all come full circle.”
On a stormy week in September, while large squalls plagued the area and housing professionals alike, the town of Brewster gained a new two-story house and a family ready to contribute to the future and success of this Cape community. The first phase of construction here on Paul Hush Way, a quiet new street surrounded by 14 acres, includes the building of six Habitat homes, with the Blitz home—complete with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a porch, and a solar panel roof—being the first.
“If I could give someone looking for affordable housing advice, it would be to go to Habitat. I wish I had done it sooner,” says the new home’s owner, Yessie Cordova. Before moving to this home, Cordova lived with her children in a dangerous neighborhood. “I couldn’t even get someone to install a fence I bought so that my kids could play outside, and I had to do it myself. Now I can sleep at night without being afraid, and my kids are loving having their own bedrooms,” she says. Cordova is already contributing to her community as a certified nursing assistant at Windsor Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Home, where she’s been for 10 years. As a caregiver, she understands the contribution that was made by those who worked on her home, and she used her vacation time to haul lumber, cheer on workers—even after dark—and bake treats for everyone.
A project like this has a lot of moving parts, with teams of experts doing the work on the house and hospitality volunteers making sure workers stay fed and motivated. “The weather was challenging, but everyone had a great attitude. If one person hadn’t shown up, the job wouldn’t have gotten done,” says York. “When everyone understands the cause, the work becomes even more rewarding.” The volunteer professionals worked for five days, from the early hours of the morning to 10 or 11 at night, and their dedication is obvious in the result of the house. “HBRACC and the companies involved in this project have a chance to push their power out into the community and contribute to something amazing—to take steps toward fixing a problem—with no direct benefit to themselves, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” says project chair John MacPhee. “We can’t all work for Habitat,” he adds, “but doggone it, we can build a house.”