Habi­tat Chop­tank marks 25 years

The Star Democrat - - FRONT PAGE -

This month, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Chop­tank is cel­e­brat­ing a quar­ter cen­tury of build­ing strength, sta­bil­ity and self-reliance through af­ford­able home­own­er­ship.

EASTON — This July, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Chop­tank cel­e­brates a quar­ter cen­tury of build­ing strength, sta­bil­ity and self-reliance through af­ford­able home own­er­ship. Since its found­ing in 1992, Habi­tat Chop­tank has made home own­er­ship pos­si­ble for 72 fam­i­lies with only one fore­clo­sure over the 25-year his­tory.

“The homes we build and re­hab are the most vis­i­ble part of our mis­sion,” said Char­lie Bohn, pres­i­dent of the Habi­tat Chop­tank board of di­rec­tors.

The suc­cess of the mis­sion, how­ever, ex­tends be­yond home con­struc­tion to in­clude de­vel­op­ing well-pre­pared home buy­ers with ed­u­ca­tion, sup­port and re­la­tion­ships from the first con­tact to that mo­ment when the keys are handed over to the fol­low-through on into home own­er­ship.

Cul­ti­vat­ing new skills and get­ting one’s fi­nan­cial house in or­der are key el­e­ments in Habi­tat’s pro­gram. Each buyer, paired with a vol­un­teer Habi­tat coach, at­tends ed­u­ca­tion classes, saves thou­sands of dol­lars for costs at clos­ing, and con­trib­utes hun­dreds of hours of sweat equity.

“Our home buy­ers are part­ners in this work,” Bohn said. “These are in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies who can’t qual­ify for a con­ven­tional mort­gage but who have the dream of home own­er­ship.”

Through an ex­ten­sive ap­pli­ca­tion process, the fu­ture home buy­ers doc­u­ment an abil­ity to re­pay an af­ford­able mort­gage for the pur­chase of a mod­er­ately priced house.

Habi­tat Chop­tank’s roots go back to the early 1990’s when con­cerned cit­i­zens came to­gether to con­sider the

state of low-in­come hous­ing within the af­flu­ence of Tal­bot County and to in­ves­ti­gate al­ter­na­tives. In St. Michaels, Union United Methodist Church and St. Luke’s United Methodist Church had been meet­ing as covenant churches. Af­ter a year of di­a­logue, the two churches knew they wanted to con­tinue meet­ing to­gether and de­cided to or­ga­nize around the need for af­ford­able hous­ing in the town.

At the same time, Easton res­i­dent Hugh Smith was trou­bled about the state of sub­stan­dard hous­ing in the county. Smith met with the St. Michaels church pas­tors — Rev. Ray Hop­kins and Rev. Joe Henry — and par­tic­i­pated in a se­ries of town meet­ings. “Habi­tat was a sim­ple idea that made in­her­ently good sense,” Smith said. “It all came to­gether quickly and a board of di­rec­tors was or­ga­nized.” Smith was the found­ing pres­i­dent. In 2003, he was named an emer­i­tus mem­ber of the board in recog­ni­tion of his ex­tra­or­di­nary con­tri­bu­tion to the Habi­tat mis­sion in Tal­bot County.

The first habi­tat home was built on Lee Street in St. Michaels. Con­struc­tion be­gan in the fall of 1992. The sin­gle fam­ily house was ded­i­cated in April of the next year.

Con­struc­tion on the se­cond home be­gan shortly there­after in Easton. “It was im­por­tant that we go to Easton,” ex­plains Jo Mer­rill. Mer­rill was an­other one of the early lead­ers, serv­ing as the se­cond pres­i­dent of the board of di­rec­tors, of which she is also an emer­i­tus mem­ber. “It was our first two-story home which cre­ated some anx­i­ety. It was our first time us­ing scaf­fold­ing to do the sid­ing and the roof was steep.”

Ner­vous­ness aside, the home was com­pleted in Fe­bru­ary 2014 and pur­chased by Di­ane Sat­ter­field. Fast for­ward 20 years to 2014, Habi­tat Chop­tank sup­port­ers joined with Sat­ter­field to cel­e­brate her mort­gage burn­ing. Her fi­nal mort­gage pay­ment rep­re­sented an­other op­por­tu­nity for Habi­tat to of­fer sup­port and ed­u­ca­tion. Hugh Smith and Jo Mer­rill were found­ing board mem­bers for Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity of Tal­bot County. To­day, the non­profit has grown to in­clude both Tal­bot and Dorch­ester Coun­ties and op­er­ates un­der the uni­fied name of Habi­tat Chop­tank.

Vol­un­teers de­vel­oped a new ed­u­ca­tional work­shop to help Sat­ter­field and the other home own­ers who are be­gin­ning to pay off their notes in mak­ing sound fi­nan­cial and home main­te­nance plans for the fu­ture.

“We started with a vi­sion and some very spe­cial peo­ple,” Mer­rill said. “Since then, Habi­tat has grown and grown. In the be­gin­ning, we didn’t talk in these num­bers. We built one house and then when that was done, we said ‘let’s build an­other.’ It’s very ex­cit­ing to see where Habi­tat is to­day.”

The orig­i­nal Tal­bot County Habi­tat af­fil­i­ate has grown into a re­gional or­ga­ni­za­tion. A fi­nan­cially au­tonomous Dorch­ester County branch of Habi­tat was ini­ti­ated in 2004 and be­gan build­ing its op­er­a­tions un­der the guid­ance of Habi­tat Tal­bot County. Ul­ti­mately, the two groups rec­og­nized their

shared man­date and joined to­gether to in­clude both coun­ties un­der the new name Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity Chop­tank.

Be­yond ex­pand­ing ge­o­graph­i­cally, Habi­tat Chop­tank has ex­panded its mis­sion. Oper­a­tional ca­pac­ity has in­creased thanks to a vol­un­teer crew that now num­bers more than 500 peo­ple an­nu­ally. Cur­rently, the non­profit has six homes in progress be­tween Cam­bridge, Hur­lock and Easton with a project in St. Michaels on the near hori­zon. Habi­tat Chop­tank has also im­ple­mented a va­ri­ety of green con­struc­tion tech­niques to cre­ate more ef­fi­cient, durable and health­ier homes. The ben­e­fits of these strate­gies to the home own­ers in­clude sav­ing money on util­i­ties, lower main­te­nance costs and a home that a fam­ily can age into.

The non­profit has ex­pand-

ed its tool­kit of hous­ing ser­vices as well to in­clude hous­ing re­pairs. In 2015, Habi­tat Chop­tank be­came one of 250 Neigh­bor­hood Re­vi­tal­iza­tion af­fil­i­ates from among the roughly 1,400 in­de­pen­dent Habi­tat af­fil­i­ates in the U.S. This pro­gram will as­sist in­come-qual­i­fy­ing home own­ers, many of whom are se­niors, to safely and af­ford­ably stay in their homes. In just three years, 118 of house­holds have been served through this ex­pan­sion. “The com­bi­na­tion of new home own­er­ship and ser­vices for fam­i­lies al­ready liv­ing in the neigh­bor­hoods where we work helps build stronger com­mu­ni­ties,” Bohn said.

In cel­e­brat­ing 25 years of ser­vice, it is also im­por­tant to rec­og­nize there is much more to do. Hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity in the United State is at its worst point since ex­perts be­gan mea­sur­ing it. In just the last 12 months, Habi­tat staff and vol­un­teers have screened over 235 pos­si­ble ap­pli­cants, a 20 per­cent in­crease over the prior year. “We reg­u­larly talk to peo­ple who are work­ing mul­ti­ple jobs but can’t get ahead be­cause they’re pay­ing 40 per­cent, 50 per­cent or more of their monthly gross in­come for their hous­ing,” said Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Nancy An- In 2010, Habi­tat Chop­tank cel­e­brated its 50th home with the sale of a home in its 10-home de­vel­op­ment on Clay Street in Easton. Since then, the non­profit has com­pleted 22 more homes. Six homes are cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion be­tween Easton, Cam­bridge and Hur­lock.

drew, a for­mer Habi­tat vol­un­teer who joined the staff in 2009.

“Op­por­tu­nity needs a place to knock,” An­drew said. There are a lot of dif­fer­ent av­enues for cre­at­ing change in a com­mu­nity but ul­ti­mately, if peo­ple don’t feel se­cure where they live, it may be im­pos­si­ble to pro­mote long-term im­prove­ment. Bet­ter af­ford­able liv­ing con­di­tions can take a fam­ily from liv­ing day to day and cre­ate a foun­da­tion from which to make more for­ward-look­ing choices.

Not every ap­pli­cant is ready to make the com­mit-

ment that Habi­tat re­quires. For those that are and who meet the fi­nanc­ing re­quire­ments, part­ner­ship with Habi­tat can re­move bar­ri­ers to op­por­tu­nity that may have been a part of a fam­ily’s life for years, if not gen­er­a­tions. “Our home own­ers take pride in hav­ing been part of their own hous­ing so­lu­tion and that’s a pow­er­ful feel­ing that they can carry for­ward into other as­pects of their lives,” An­drew said.

To learn more about Habi­tat Chop­tank, to vol­un­teer or to make a donation, visit www.habi­tatchop­tank.org or call 410-476-3204.

In 2014, Habi­tat Chop­tank cel­e­brated its first mort­gage burn­ing. Home owner Di­ane Sat­ter­field, who pur­chased Habi­tat’s first home in Easton, joined with Habi­tat sup­port­ers to mark this mile­stone.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.