Once an office, it’ll soon be home

COPAKE—Columbia County Habitat for Humanity has acquired a house here and will now choose a family to make it a home.

Brenda Adams, director of Habitat’s Columbia County affiliate, came to the Copake Town Board meeting last month to talk about the organization’s next project at 283 Mountain View Road, the former Desmond Callan Family Care Center.

Around since 1993, Columbia County Habitat is currently putting the finishing touches on its 19th and 20th affordable home projects which are passive townhouses at 3049 Main Street in Valatie.

It is also organizing a Women Build project set to start January 1 in New Lebanon; and is in the process of acquiring two building lots in Ancramdale for new construction to get underway later this year, Ms. Adams said by phone this week.

In Copake, Habitat has acquired the ranch-style building at the corner of Mountain View and Farm roads, which until last year was a doctor’s office.

The house is in the Taconic Hills Central School District.

Ms. Adams told the board that the structure is in excellent condition, is particularly energy efficient with 10-inch thick walls and with some “modest renovations” should be ready for occupancy later this year.

Habitat is not in the business of “giving away houses,” she said. Instead it facilitates “the pathway to homeownership” for the right “partner families.”

Applicants must meet income requirements. “Total household income must be enough for the family to be able to make affordable monthly payments, but cannot be below 25% or exceed 60% of the median income for Columbia County, based on family size. The 2016 median income for the county was $74,900,” according to the columbiacountyhabitat.org website. So, for example, to be eligible for a Habitat home, the income for a family of four must range between $44,800 and $18,700.

Applicants must be willing to invest 300 hours in “sweat equity.” They can do this by working on construction, at the Habitat ReStore or in the Habitat office. Friends and family members 16 years or older can participate to help to earn hours.

Ms. Adams told the board, “We build homes with volunteers. We leave code-related work to the trades,” but the volunteer effort helps Habitat reduce development costs and allows the community to engage in the process.

Applicants must attend an approved first-time homebuyers course before purchasing a Habitat home; take financial and maintenance responsibility for the Habitat home; and submit to a sex offender database check and a criminal background check as part of the application process.

According to Ms. Adams, one in two New Yorkers pays more than 30% of their income for housing.

Applicants must demonstrate one or more of the following: they are financially unable to obtain a conventional mortgage to purchase a home; their current home is substandard and has defects that cannot be repaired simply; their current home has an inadequate number of bedrooms as determined by the number, ages and sex of household members; their current neighborhood is unsuitable (unsafe or unsanitary).

When a home is completed, Habitat sells it to the chosen partner family with an affordable mortgage and prepares the family to be successful homeowners.

Ms. Adams said that while previously Habitat held the mortgage, changes in consumer protection laws now require that an outside lender be sought: the USDA, SONYMA or a bank. This gives local lenders the opportunity to help local families, she noted.

To date, she said, no Habitat homeowners in Columbia County have been foreclosed upon. In the event that a homeowner loses their job, Habitat provides services to help them get back on their feet and stay in their home.

Ms. Adams also sought the board’s assistance with identifying local available properties. She said one of Habitat’s “great challenges is to find properties to rehab or build on.”

Local leaders are likely to know what properties might be available, Ms. Adams said, and could work with Habitat to create homes for qualifying families and get abandoned or other properties back on the tax rolls.

She noted that Habitat already has had a Copake success story in the Weaver family. The family’s seven children have all done volunteer work for Habitat and other organizations to give back to the community. The eldest Weaver daughter went on to become a medical doctor. And when the time came, Jane Weaver’s aging parents were able to move in.

The deadline for applications for the Copake Habitat house has passed and the selection process is underway, but interested applicants still have a chance for an affordable home because Habitat is in the midst of a 30 Homes by 2020 Campaign.

In its 2016 newsletter Columbia County Habitat announced the kick-off a campaign to build 12 new houses in the next five years to reach a total of 30 Homes by 2020 to help meet the growing need for affordable housing for working families in Columbia County.

Habitat for Humanity, founded in 1976, is an international, non-governmental and nonprofit organization, which works in “nearly 1,400 communities across the U.S. and in 70 countries and has helped 9.8 million people achieve strength, stability and independence through safe, decent and affordable shelter,” according to the website www.habitat.org.

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