September 28, 2013 marked the completion of one of the most ambitious building projects the Cape has seen in years. Known as Blitz Build, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Cape Cod (HB&RACC), in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod (HHCC), completed the construction of a single-family Orleans residence in less than a week. Aside from excavation and foundation work, the house was constructed in just five days, from the morning of September 23 to Friday, September 27, when a Certificate of Occupancy was issued to the happy new homeowners.
With family ties in Brewster and Eastham that reach back for generations, Heidi and Michael Richards—who have two small children, Michael, 2, and Madison, 1—had faced leaving the Cape and their extended family despite working three jobs. “We were living in a house in Brewster,” Heidi explains. “The rent was outrageous. There were mold issues and we had to move in with my father for a bit.” Struggling to find an affordable rent, the Richards submitted an application just two days before the Blitz Build deadline last March. The family met the application criteria, and in June, they won the subsequent lottery drawing.
The home’s design was created and donated by Charles Orr, AIA, of Hutker Architects in Falmouth. In accordance with Habitat for Humanity directives, the house was designed with energy efficiency and affordability in mind. Built on Bevan Way in Orleans, the house is a contemporary ranch with an open floor plan perfect for an active young family. It features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a porch along the back of the house, and a yard abutting an attractive wooded area.
Completing the project successfully, and on deadline, required considerable collaboration and contributions from businesses and residents from around the Cape; more than 100 local suppliers, contractors, and individuals were involved.
Why mount such a monumental effort to build one modest, 1,200-square-foot home? Just ask anyone from Habitat Cape Cod. Representatives speak with passion about the desperate need for affordable housing on the Cape and the agency’s desire to bring greater attention to the issue.
“The housing crisis is usually a hidden problem,” explains Vicki Goldsmith, Habitat Cape Cod’s executive director. “Our volunteers interview applicants in their homes; they see first hand the challenges and unhealthy living conditions that many are faced with.” Based in Yarmouthport, HHCC focuses on critical housing needs, such as people living in sub-standard physical conditions, overcrowding, those at risk for homelessness, and other situations where an exceptional percentage of an individual’s, or family’s, income is spent on housing. All too often, Goldsmith says, people are forced to leave the Cape because they simply can’t afford to live here.
In their new home, the Richards’ dream of living and raising a family on Cape Cod is coming true. “We love the house,” Heidi says. “My son loves the yard. He has a place to run and play now.” The Richards’ home is the first of five Habitat homes slated for construction in the Orleans subdivision.
Habitat Cape Cod is committed to making a deliberate and concerted effort to improve housing situations for families like the Richards, working in partnership with the HB&RACC. The mission of HHCC, which has completed 81 homes on the Cape since its founding in 1988, is to “work in partnership with families in need to build homes, hope, lives, and community on Cape Cod.”
The HB&RACC has a similar mission. While the organization’s initiatives are broad and range from advocacy to education, the association also works to support home ownership for trade members and the broader community, advocating for affordable housing for all. “Our builders [i.e. association members and affiliates] live, work, and play here, and have a vested interest in affecting a stable, growing, thriving economy,” says Chris Duren, the organization’s executive director. “The Cape can’t afford to lose people who are the economic engine of our community.”
Motivated to bring awareness to the increasing issue of the lack of housing on the Cape, HB&RACC partnered with Habitat Cape Cod to “shine a spotlight” on the local housing crisis, Duren explains. These compatible beliefs—and the work of countless dedicated volunteers—sparked the 2013 Cape Cod Blitz Build initiative.
The nationwide concept of Blitz Build began in 2002 when a homebuilder in North Carolina partnered with Habitat for Humanity. Together, the partners recruited 12 additional homebuilders who agreed to build a home in five days. According to Habitat for Humanity International resources, response to the original project was sensational; since then, 1,067 homes have been constructed in similar Blitz Build fashion.
Cape Cod’s Blitz Build began when the HB&RACC, which is affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders and the Home Builders and Remodeling Association of Massachusetts, decided to take on the initiative locally. Conversations began between representatives of the two organizations—HB&RACC and Habitat Cape Cod—two years ago. Both groups decided that 2013 would be the right time for an event of this magnitude.
While a similar Blitz Build project was completed in Yarmouth during the 1990s, what is notable about this project is the exclusive use of skilled labor and the total support of a single organization: in this case HB&RACC. The extent to which the community at large contributed to this effort is also extraordinary.
HB&RACC is comprised primarily of Cape residents, workers, and businesses. The organization and its members fulfilled their commitment of 100% sponsorship by donating time, craftsmanship, materials, and resources to the Orleans project. Where the association was low in resources, fundraising efforts were undertaken with local businesses and philanthropists, and supplies and donations of all kinds were secured. The Cape community quite simply “delivered in every way,” adds Goldsmith.
“Habitat participated in planning efforts,” Goldsmith says, “but the heavy lifting and resources were handled by the leading members of the HB&RACC and their construction specialists.” Overall, the project took about eight months of planning and coordination prior to the actual construction, work that involved creating detailed timelines, coordinating inspections and fundraising.
The Blitz Build project brought about some notable collaborative efforts. For example, competitors like Andersen Windows and Harvey Windows pitched in to outfit the new home. Another Cape company, Shepley Wood Products, stands out for the multiple ways it contributed. Not only did Shepley donate building materials, the company also dedicated manpower and the use of its Hyannis facility for the staging and storing of materials. Rich Bryant of Cape Associates, Inc., and a key member of the Blitz Build Planning Committee, tells of the good mood and organized chaos painting crews from several different companies shared while working side-by-side and “bumping elbows” in tight quarters.
During the home’s emotional dedication ceremony on September 28, Bob Ryley, Habitat Cape Cod’s construction director, commented on the successful effort. “What a week,” Ryley said to those on hand. “It’s been like a controlled free-for-all. We finally got to pull the ripcord and everything was functioning.” The project was quite the feat considering the amount of coordination and synchronization required to build a house in just one week, especially with resources coming—literally—from dozens of different places.
Nearly 50 local companies and individuals contributed to the project. More than 60 Cape companies donated supplies and well over 100 locals offered support through donations and in-kind contributions.
Truro resident, Daniel Murphy, a retired contractor who works for the National Parks Service, was happy to participate and volunteered for the week as a site supervisor. “I never saw a house go up so fast,” Murphy says. “It’s plumb, true, and square; that’s industry lingo for a top-quality project.”
The Blitz Build focused attention on the importance of resolving affordable housing issues through community involvement. Before plans for the project were finalized, though, the Orleans community had already taken steps to address the issue of a lack of affordable housing here on the Cape. At a special Town Meeting in 2010, Orleans voters approved the expenditure of $615,000 of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funding to purchase the land for this development, and cover some infrastructure costs.
“It’s a great day for the town of Orleans,” Julia Enroth, chair of the Orleans CPA Committee,” says. “[Ultimately,] it was the town that unanimously voted in support of this.”
Peter Kimball, a member of the Blitz Build planning committee and president of AP Kimball Construction of Yarmouthport, sums up the entire experience. “Although it only took five days to put this house together,” Kimball says, “ it took much more to build it.”