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Habitat's multiple-home project is no small deal

Habitat's multiple-home project is no small deal


The gap between the need and the availability of affordable housing may close a bit in the coming years as Greater Fredericksburg Habitat for Humanity looks to make a difference with its largest ever local home-building project.

With the first of an initial five houses nearing completion and two others well underway around a new cul-de-sac on South Street in Mayfield, the organization is really just getting started with the project it calls Canterbury.

According to Construction Manager Amber Smith, the nonprofit will build 17 houses over the next six years or so in similar arrangements on 20 acres it has acquired at the end of four streets in Mayfield—Canterbury, South, Newell and Davies.

“This is how we break the cycle” for families saddled with inadequate or unsafe housing, Smith said. “It’s wonderful to see that happen, but they have to stay involved; they have to work for it.”

Cassie Kimberlin, the local Habitat executive director, said she is impressed with the pride Mayfield residents take in their homes. She expects the Habitat homes will help lift the real estate values throughout the neighborhood.

“It’s an investment in the future, a win–win for everybody as we help build wealth,” Kimberlin said. “We want to minimize the costs incurred by the owners. These houses will be move-in ready—and ready to live in for 20 or 30 years” without the need for upgrades or costly improvements over that time.

That’s why the kitchen has granite counters, high-quality cabinetry and trusted appliance brands—features that will last and not require replacement anytime soon. That’s why the homes will have laminate flooring throughout.

The objectives of the Habitat program are many, but the basic goals of the Canterbury project are to provide high-quality homes at an affordable price to those willing to contribute “sweat equity” and commit themselves to meeting the challenges of home ownership.

Smith explained that in addition to the simple, decent and affordable homes that Habitat builds, she wants “durable” to be an important part of the mix.

“How can we improve the design and the energy efficiency of our homes—make them better and more desirable,” Smith said.

The house nearing completion at 407 South St. is called the “Happy.” It’ll be one of three four-bedroom, two-bathroom models with 1,400 square feet of living space on one level. The two others will be three-bedroom, two-bath models. All will have covered main entries.

The houses will be basically the same, but will have varied exterior colors to give them some individuality.

All of the houses will meet American Disability Act standards with wide hallways and doorways, and bathroom space enough for a wheelchair to spin around. With bathroom grab-bars included, and exterior entries built to accept ramps if needed in the future, the houses are also designed to allow owners to age-in-place if they so desire.

The Happy has a substantial, open main area inside the front door with living and dining areas plus the kitchen. To the left of the side entry is a room that includes the laundry machine hookups and pantry space.

Of the four bedrooms, the three secondaries are of approximate equal size—so no squabbling among siblings. The bedrooms share a hall bathroom equipped with a pocket door to save space.

The master suite has a walk-in closet and its own bathroom with an oversized, step-in shower.

The houses are solidly constructed with 6-inch framing to provide extra insulation space. High-efficiency appliances, LED lighting fixtures and a Nest Learning thermostat will help hold down electricity bills. The houses sit on crawl spaces that are heated or cooled to help keep things comfortable and efficient from season to season.

Owners receive a $2,000 stipend for upgrades they can choose.

None of this would happen, however, without the Habitat nonprofit home construction and ownership process. These houses will be built for between $180,000 and $200,000, houses that would cost at least half again that much in the current housing market.

Smith said that thanks to a partnership that involves lots of volunteer labor, subcontractors who are willing to donate their time and leftover materials, and government programs that aim to make housing affordable for qualified individuals and families, Habitat is able to make housing dreams come true.

“This is what can happen when everybody rows in the same direction,” Smith said. Even the neighborhood infrastructure, like street extensions, and water and sewer pipes, are aided by state and federal grant money.

She said volunteers need not have construction experience, but must be willing to learn and take direction.

Smith said that whenever veteran builders get involved in a project, they tend to be “a little bit humbled” by the amount and quality of work that is completed in so little time. They know very well how much work goes into building a house, she said, not to mention building a neighborhood.

“We’re always planning for the future,” Kimberlin said. The Canterbury project has been in the planning stages for five years, and once it is completed about six years from now, the organization will need to have a plan in place for what happens next.

“We can’t afford to sit around,” she said.

Richard Amrhine: 540/374-5406

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