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Published: Sunday, 7/27/2008

Habitat for Humanity hammers out 5 homes in 7 days

BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Liz Long poses by her West Toledo home under construction by Habitat for Humanity on Waybridge Road off Bennett Road. Liz Long poses by her West Toledo home under construction by Habitat for Humanity on Waybridge Road off Bennett Road.
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Liz Long has never owned her own home - and never thought she would be able to do so. But that's about to change.

Early Friday, local builders started construction on homes for Ms. Long and several other families as part of a Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity project that aims to build five homes in seven days.

Ms. Long, 30, who has lived in low-income housing her entire life, said she is thrilled that she will have a place to call her own to raise her child.

She and her 9-year-old daughter now live in a Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority building in Sylvania.

The new homes will be built on Waybridge Road, off Bennett Road, between Laskey and Alexis roads in West Toledo. Habitat hopes to eventually have 10 homes on the street.

The Habitat "Builders Blitz" is designed to showcase the skills of the professional builders, as well as to construct more houses than would be possible with the volunteer crews the organization typically uses.

Georgia-based Habitat for Humanity was founded in 1976 and builds homes around the world for low-income families.

The Christian group, which strives to eliminate homelessness and substandard housing, has built more than 250,000 residences.

Home builder Michael Dean, president of Michael Development Ltd. and of the Home Builders Association of Greater Toledo, first became involved with Habitat when he participated in a builder's blitz two years ago.

"I saw this young lady's [the new home owner's] children and how this house was affecting them," Mr. Dean said. "Knowing statistically what housing does for families, it is an opportunity for people to live a better life We enjoy giving back. This is the best way for builders to do it."

The average price for the new Habitat homes is $70,000, and the structures average 1,100 to 1,200 square feet per home. One of the homes in this project is 1,600 square feet with five bedrooms because the family is large, but that's unusual.

There is a shortage of affordable housing, at least 2.8 million units nationwide, according to estimates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

This month, the Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority has been accepting applications for the Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly called Section 8.

The program allows eligible families to receive a voucher and rent from a private landlord, rather than living in public housing. Under the program, families pay about 30 percent of their income in rent, with the voucher subsidizing the remaining cost.

When LMHA announced at the beginning of July it would be taking applications for the program and the program's waiting list for the first time in nearly a year, the agency was flooded with more than 4,000 applications - for less than 100 vouchers.

While LMHA Executive Director Linnie Willis estimates that at least one-third of the applicants probably won't be eligible for the program, the sheer volume of people seeking help from Section 8 makes a statement about the need for more affordable housing, she said.

"The number of applications we receive is a confirmation of the need to keep decent, safe, and affordable housing in this community," Mrs. Willis said, adding that issue goes beyond the ability of an organization such as LMHA or Habitat for Humanity to easily solve and requires the attention of state and national elected officials.

In the meantime, Ms. Long, a nurse assistant at Sunset Village Retirement Community, has been putting in her required hours of "sweat equity" for Habitat.

Homeowners must complete 300 to 500 hours of work, 50 hours of which must be on their own home.

Habitat for Humanity homes are not given away. In addition to her sweat equity hours, Ms. Long must pay for her house.

Homeowners also must attend financial management classes and a yearlong homeownership course, said Marilyn Jensen, director of development Maumee Valley Habitat for Humanity.

Ms. Jensen emphasized that the builders have volunteered their time, labor, and money. No more volunteers are needed for this project, she said.

"It speaks very highly of the building community," she said, "In a time when the economy is so bad, housing starts are down, the foreclosures, 11 builders stepped forward to help we have had so much wonderful support."

Contact Kate Giammarise at:

kgiammarise@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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