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There’s no place like home, builders say

Photo by Kevin Lee

At Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build event, all-female crews worked on the ceiling of a condominium rising at Fox and Leggett.

Habitat for Humanity employs all-female crews to build apartments on Fox Street

By Kevin Lee

Carol Long and her daughter Shauna spent the Saturday before Mother’s Day helping to build the seven-story condominium apartment building rising at Fox Street and Leggett Avenue in Longwood.

As the elder Long held a tape measure in place, her daughter marked off the 15-inch cuts that would create ceiling studs for apartments set aside for Habitat for Humanity, the Christian housing organization that uses donations and the work of volunteers to build affordable housing.

The Longs were among the all-women construction crews of first-time and seasoned volunteers from all parts of the city who participated in the annual Women Build event that Habitat bills as celebrating “the power of women working together to help solve the city’s housing crisis and to revitalize a low-income neighborhood.”

They joined women from families chosen to receive a home from Habitat, who were earning credit toward buying a home by working and learning skills they would need to maintain their future homes.

Riverdale resident Susan Kistler said she was moved to volunteer because the event was dedicated to single parents. Her mother raised four children single-handedly, and she is raising her daughter alone, she said.

Shauna Long, a board member of Habitat, boasted that the Women Build event sets a good example to daughters and women in general about being independent and accomplishing whatever they set their mind to. “Women are expert builders and they are always perfectionists,” she said, adding with a smile, “Our projects are always perfect.”

The Fox Street building is collaboration between Habitat and the Blue Sea Development Company. Twelve apartments of the 50 in the building will be reserved for families chosen by Habitat.

They will live in a building that meets “green,” or environmentally-friendly, building standards, using non-toxic and recycled materials as well as energy saving devices that will help new residents save money on their utility bills.

Maria Pomales, who has lived in her Habitat home in Mott Haven for four-plus years voiced a similar sentiment, believes the new condos will be good for everyone in the neighborhood. “People in the area take better care of their things since they see how nice our area is now, and it’s improved the area overall.”

The bare interior of the Fox Street building reminded Pomales of when she began working on. her row house and the 12 neighboring homes in Mott Haven. They were just cinderblocks, she said. “The walls were coming up and we started putting the first nails in, and it becomes the reality that, ‘Wow this is going to be my home!’”

The families Habitat for Humanity chooses must be first-time homeowners who are currently living in an untenable situation. Families chosen for a home are often spending more than half their income to rent overcrowded housing.

As a down payment, each adult member of Habitat family must be willing to put in from 300 to 600 hours working to build homes. The credit they’re given for their work is called “sweat equity.” Once they’ve moved in, their mortgage payments are low.

Waunda Lashley-Greer was working on the Fox Street building as part of her sweat equity requirement. When she moves from her one-bedroom apartment in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, to her new two-bedroom home in Brownsville, her two children, 4- and 9-years-old, “will have a place to play,” she said.

“Home means a lot,” she added, “because it is something I can say, ‘Well this is what I have accomplished and this is mine.’”

Pomales’ daughter, Sadie Henriquez, was also volunteering at the Fox street site and donating her hours to Lashley-Greer. She recounted how whole blocks of her Mott Haven neighborhood have changed since the Habitat homes were built there.

“Before our 13 houses that block was abandoned. People probably never even walked through there because of how it looked,” she said.

Now, “there are these pretty row houses and little flower boxes in front and you have your little back yard. People have their decks. It looks really nice and improved the neighborhood a lot,” her mother chimed in.

There is a community garden across the street from her home. When the city tried to close it, Pomales said, “We all signed a petition for it, so a lot of my green thumb neighbors have their patches in the garden and they grow their vegetables.

“It united, I think people in the area to take better care of their things, since they see how nice our area is now, and it’s improved the area overall.”

Barbara Vargas, who lives in West Farms, agrees that projects like the Fox Street building make a whole neighborhood better. She said she had volunteered because she remembered the days when the Bronx was filled with abandoned buildings and she had seen how affordable housing had led to the borough’s improvement.

“Home means everything,” she said. “It’s the roof over your head. It’s your safe zone for your family.”

A version of this story appeared in the June 2009 issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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