Habitat homes seek to help ag community

ANCRAMDALE—Columbia County Habitat for Humanity has completed 20 affordable home projects throughout this county in the past 24 years.

Now, for the first time the organization has turned its sights on Ancram, a town that calls itself a “Historic Farming Community Moving Forward,” for a “Rural Build” project intended to provide housing for those who work in some aspect of agriculture.

Columbia County Habitat for Humanity (CCHFH) Executive Director Brenda Adams appeared at the November 16 Ancram Town Board meeting to update the board on the status of the project which will bring a newly-constructed two-family house to the center of the Ancramdale hamlet next year. The project was the subject of a public community forum last spring at the Ancram firehouse.

An approximate rendering of what the Ancram Rural Build will look like. Image contributed

Four Partners Land Company, LLC, donated two parcels totaling 1.7 acres to Habitat, Ms. Adams told The Columbia Paper by phone this week. The parcels, which have now been subdivided into plots of 1 and 0.7 acres, are situated across County Route 8 from the Farmer’s Wife in the hamlet. The larger parcel contains a small unbuildable wetland area.

Habitat plans to construct an attached, two-family house there. Each side of the house will be two-stories high and about 1,300 square feet in size.

The largest threat” to the ability of homeowners to keep up with mortgage payments are “carrying costs, the costs to maintain a house,” Ms. Adams told the board. Families who are chosen for these houses will get some help with that. BarlisWedlick Architects, with offices in Manhattan and Hudson, designed the “passive house” Habitat prototype structure, which uses 90% less energy to heat and cool year-round. Ms. Adams compared annual conventional home heating and cooling costs of $3,000 to $300 for the passive house.

The well, septic system and driveway at the site have been finished, Ms. Adams told the board.

Habitat is primarily a developer of affordable housing, a construction company and until a few months ago, a bank, she said. But due to changes in consumer protection laws, Habitat can no longer originate mortgages, so families who apply for Habitat housing must qualify for a mortgage with a third party lender.

Interest rates on Habitat mortgages are typically 2% or less, she said.

Qualifying applicants must fall within set income guidelines, be able to pay monthly mortgage payments of between $750 and $800 on a 30-year mortgage, and be willing to partner with Habitat by investing 300 hours of “sweat equity” in building their house.

There are 4,000 to 5,000 volunteer hours in each Habitat house, she said, noting, it’s similar to an old-fashioned barn raising—the community is invited and wants to participate.

Specialized aspects of the project that are subject to “codes” are subcontracted out.

This is a first-time homebuyers program,” said Ms. Adams, “this is not a charity; we are not giving away houses. It’s a path to partnership.”

Income guidelines dictate that a qualifying applicant must earn between 25% and 60% of the area median income (AMI). In 2016, the AMI for Columbia County was $74,900. For example, a working family of four must make between $18,700 to $44,800 to qualify. The amount is prorated based on family size, she said. Other qualifying factors are that a family currently lives in substandard housing, lives in an unsafe neighborhood or in overcrowded conditions.

Once the closing on the property takes place, families will be solicited. The application process, which will run from four to six weeks, will be announced on the Habitat website (http://columbiacountyhabitat.org/), through the media, via flyers and local faith-based groups.

Ms. Adams hopes that a family will be selected in March and that “a hole in the ground” can be dug in April or early May.

Applicants from the agricultural community will be targeted, she said. The applicant could be, for example, a farm worker, an artisan cheese-maker, someone who brush-hogs fields or builds fences.

We think there is a big need for housing among people in rural trades, the agricultural community,” that there is a housing gap in rural areas and that these areas are losing community members because they can’t find housing, she said, noting that the property donors hope someone in that field will find housing with this project.

Ancram is a test case,” she said, and asked the board to help Habitat get the word out, so that goal can be realized.

To contact Diane Valden email

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