“Now it’s time to build in Dover,” says Hollenbeck.
Before ground can break on construction, Hollenback and West Dover Habitat will have to maneuver a series of administrative hoops, the most significant of which will be finding a “buildable” plot of land, selecting an appropriate applicant or applicants to live in the new house, and—of course—securing enough money to push ahead with construction. This final consideration depends largely upon whether Habitat will build on donated or purchased land. If need be, West River Habitat will purchase a parcel of land, but that will require raising an additional $20,000, approximately.
Hollenbeck’s hope to build in Dover figures into the community-based logic of Habitat for Humanity, which emphasizes community-building through the process of “sweat equity,” in which the incoming residents of a new home contribute their own labor in the building process. The lion’s share of construction labor rests with volunteers, with contractors hired only for specialized labor needs such as plumbing or electricity.
“Most of the people who are the volunteers live in Wilmington and Dover. The logical place where we haven’t built is Dover,” says Hollenbeck. She specifically cites Lane Plumbing and Heating, Swan Electric, and WW Building Supply as having been major assets to West River Habitat in the past, offering labor and materials to projects at a reduced rate. And Whirlpool donates appliances to all houses.
Hollenbeck, a retired social worker, helped found the West River chapter of Habitat in 2001 and has interacted with the complications of zoning and application hurdles since then. Currently, the main problem facing the potential Dover project is the lack of a buildable plot of land. To be deemed “buildable” by the town, the land must meet strict zoning and environmental standards and be able to accommodate the new house as well as town water and sewer connections. It cannot be a parcel that sits on wetlands.
“Habitat has more rules than the Catholic Church,” she jokes. “A buildable lot would settle everything, and we could start next spring.”
The building schedule for a Habitat home typically operates on a 10-month cycle, beginning in March and concluding sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. A best-case scenario would start with the donation of a buildable plot of land to the West River Habitat chapter, which would allow the gears of planning and construction to begin turning immediately.
West River Habitat is also faced with the challenge of selecting an appropriate applicant or applicants to live in the new house. Habitat’s rules for selection are based primarily on income data; residents of a Habitat home must be deemed able to pay the mortgage. According to Hollenbeck, the cost of building a new Habitat home usually runs between $110,000 and $115,000, and that cost is repaid through the mortgage. Mortgage payments also help to fund the construction of future Habitat houses. “We’ve got to keep going,” says Hollenbeck. “If you can get enough houses built, then mortgage payments from existing homes will get you a new house every year.” Attached to the mortgage agreement, too, are stipulations which make the homes “affordable forever.”
Another restriction to consider in the application process is potential residents’ ability to pay taxes on their home, which often cost more than the mortgage itself. But potential setbacks, says Hollenbeck, are balanced by the fact that Habitat homes require no down payment and no interest on the mortgage.
“The whole point is that you will live there, stay there,” says Hollenbeck, who adds that Habitat homes are routinely appraised for far above the cost it takes to build them. However, residents who choose to sell are limited in how much they are able to receive from the sale.
Once all loose ends are tied, ground can break. “We can’t say which town we’re going to build in yet,” Hollenbeck laments, but she is confident that will change soon. “Over a year and a half from today, we’ll have a building for people to live in.”
For more information or to discuss a donation to West River Habitat for Humanity call Hollenbeck at (802) 464-5156. Checks can be mailed directly to West River Habitat for Humanity, PO Box 40, Jacksonville, VT 05342.