CHENANGO COUNTY — The Chenango County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity is currently in the process of repairing and renovating three houses in Smithville Flats, Norwich, and Oxford for individuals and families in need.
Habitat for Humanity is an international nonprofit organization that helps low-income individuals and families find an affordable place to live. The organization either builds homes from scratch or repairs existing houses, then works with the new homeowner to set up an affordable mortgage.
"We run two programs: we run house construction/ownership, and then for people who have repair issues with their property, we’ll finance the materials and, depending on their income level, they either pay us back for the materials at no interest charge, or if their income level is low enough, we have a grant program that will provide up to $5,000 worth of materials for them," said Chenango County Habitat for Humanity Board and Construction Committee Member Tom Murray.
"The whole idea behind Habitat is to provide housing for people that wouldn’t normally qualify for a normal mortgage. So their income and situation would exclude them from the mortgage, so we fill that gap," he continued. "They have to invest so many sweat equity hours, and when the project’s done, the house, basically it’ll be sold to them."
The home in Smithville Flats is being repaired after some prior work was botched. Murray said they have put in sheetrock, upgraded insulation, did electrical repairs, and replaced windows.
"[We're] just generally getting the place back to a livable condition," said Murray. "She said for the first time in years she’s actually been warm through the winter."
The Smithville Flats project is currently on hold until the weather improves in the spring. In the meantime, the local Habitat for Humanity chapter is continuing work on an existing home in Norwich, and starting a new repair project in Oxford.
The Norwich project is a home that was repossessed by NBT Bank and acquired by Habitat about three months ago. Murray said construction volunteers and the future homeowners are working on interior renovation, including floor replacement and electrical repairs. He's also working on getting a licensed plumber in the house to fix plumbing issues.
Murray said this is the local chapter's first attempt at a full home rehab.
"Normally we build from scratch. This is our first attempt at a rehab. We’re finding it’s a whole lot more work than starting from the ground up," he said. "From the street, the initial walk through, and the house inspection, everything looked halfway decent. But as we got into it, we found that there’s bigger issues than we planned on. It’s an older house, it’s plaster lath interior rather than sheetrock, so it’s a lot harder to repair that. And as we open up walls we find other issues that we didn't anticipate."
The home-buying process will look different as well. Murray said the family qualifies for a USDA mortgage, so when the house is finished, they will be able to purchase it from the organization through USDA financing.
In Oxford, Murray said a single mother of four children contacted the organization after she found out the house she was renting was going to be sold. However, he said Habitat didn't have enough time to build a house from scratch.
Fortunately, she was able to work with her landlord and purchase the house through USDA financing.
"USDA, when they did their inspection, came up with a list of deficiencies that needed to be corrected," Murray explained. "USDA wanted the deficiencies corrected before they closed, and then USDA changed their minds and they allowed her to close on the property as long as they got the things repaired. Originally, because she didn’t own the property, we couldn’t help her. But then she became the property owner, then we could help her."
So far, he said they've repaired the attic access ladder, replaced a defective fluorescent light fixture with a LED unit, added GFCI protection to the electrical outlets in the kitchen and sump pump, and installed new carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
Future plans include fixing the home's low water pressure, repairing the ventilator fan in the upstairs bathroom, and adding a shower unit to the downstairs bathroom, among others.
Murray said Habitat for Humanity's work is made possible through the contributions of volunteers. However, like many nonprofit organizations, they're currently struggling to find helping hands.
He said volunteer numbers have dwindled over the years, from a crew of about 12 volunteers for a home construction in West Bainbridge in 2012 and 2013, to about six volunteers for a Sherburne home construction from 2016 to 2019, and now a crew of just two working on the current projects.
Anyone over the age of 18 can sign up to be a volunteer. Sign up forms can be found online at ChenangoHabitat.org/how-you-can-help/get-involved. Individuals can also contact the organization for more information at 607-334-7492 or email@example.com.
"We’ve got fewer and fewer volunteers," Murray said. "For the first time in the affiliate’s existence we’re money flush and volunteer short. Two of the houses that we built for people here in Norwich we’ve sold, and so the proceeds for that have gone back into the bank account. So we’ve got money to invest, we just need workers."
For more information on Chenango County Habitat for Humanity, visit ChenangoHabitat.org.