Habitat for Humanity seeks home owner applicants

05/08/03 12:00AM By Susan Keese
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(Host) Vermont has 10 chapters of Habitat for Humanity, the organization that helps needy families get a start in the housing market. But a recently formed chapter in southern Vermont has encountered an unusual problem: finding qualified applicants.

VPR's Susan Keese has more:


(Sound of footsteps in the woods.)

(Keese) On a wooded acre lot in West Wardsboro, Bill Berry is contemplating someone's dream house.

(Berry) "It'll be basically a ranch design, with a living room, kitchen, two or three bedrooms, depending on the family and the number of children that they have."

(Keese) Berry is the president of the fledgling West River Habitat for Humanity. Since the group formed a little more than a year ago, they've raised more than $25,000 through fundraisers and letter-writing campaigns. They've acquired a site. They've assembled volunteers, eager to help build a sturdy house with a $65,000 price tag and an interest free mortgage.

The only thing missing is the right would-be homeowner to get the project rolling.

Berry says the group had no trouble providing Habitat with statistics that proved a need existed. Selling raffle tickets in the local markets, they talked to many people who confirmed the need.

(Berry) "And we got an overwhelming majority of people who said yes, it's definitely needed here. I know somebody, I have a relative, I have a friend, and they would even like to recommend them. That's why it's such a mystery."

(Keese) The group has contacted churches, towns and schools. They've put out press releases and posters. The region includes several resort areas where affordable housing is in notorious short supply, but so far they've received only one or two applications that might fit the organization's guidelines.

Several applicants have had too little income. Berry says a minimum income of $24,000 a year is the minimum necessary to cover the mortgage, taxes and maintenance. The upper limit, depending on family size, might be in the low thirties. Berry says volunteers are even willing to help candidates fill out the application.

(Berry) "I think part of the problem is that people don't realize that we're going to be there to walk them through the whole process. We're not trying to put up road blocks. We want someone to live here. It doesn't have to be a family. It doesn't have to be conventional, it could be a single mom, single dad it can be somebody without children."

(Keese) Members of the group speculate that Vermonters may be too proud to ask for help. They emphasize that Habitat homeowners are expected to earn their house through hard work at every stage, from hammering nails to meeting monthly payments.

Habitat volunteers are ready to provide training in skills from budgeting to changing fuses to help new homeowners succeed.

Berry says he's heard from other Habitat groups that the first house is the hardest. He hopes that's true. The group has been offered other sites to develop, and eventually they hope to build a house a year. They'd like to build this one this summer, but they want to make sure that everyone who's interested has applied.

(Berry) "The more people we have to choose from, the better our choice will probably be."

(Keese) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Susan Keese.
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