Habitat appeals for applicants

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It’s any first-time homeowner’s worst nightmare.

“Water is dripping into my basement and I have no idea why!”

When Louise Carriere, co-treasurer of Habitat for Humanity, West Bay and Northern RI, was a family partner – a mentor to the new homeowners – those are the type of calls that she would get.

When she received this particular call from a frantic mother, Carriere asked the homeowner to check all the faucets to see if anything was leaking. When the test came back negative, she knew exactly what the issue was.

“It’s a humid day and you’re running cold water; the pipes are sweating,” she explained.

A construction worker that had overheard the conversation thought the answer was a no-brainer but, as Carriere pointed out, “when you’re a first-time homeowner, everything can seem like a crisis.”

Habitat for Humanity builds homes for low-to-middle income families that currently reside in substandard living conditions, have the ability to pay an interest-free mortgage payment of $700 to $900 per month and are willing to participate in the Habitat community. These mortgage payments are recycled into revolving funds that are used to build more homes. If Habitat West Bay is in need of funds, they have the option to sell the mortgages of finished houses to banks or Rhode Island Housing. This option still maintains the interest-free aspect of the mortgages for families. The waiting list is currently empty, so Habitat West Bay is actively looking for applicants who wish to become a Habitat homeowner.

Once a family has applied to be a homeowner, Habitat for Humanity conducts a full background check, including criminal records and sex offender lists. Assuming everything comes back clear, the next step is home visits. Members of Habitat’s Family Selection Committee evaluate the housing situations of the various applicants. The committee uses this information to prioritize who needs the available housing and which applicants will go on the waiting list. After this process is complete families must participate in the Habitat community before they can move into their new home. One of the requirements is 300 hours of “sweat equity.”

Sweat equity teaches new homeowners the different parts of owning a home, like making repairs and proper upkeep, by having them actually do the work. The initial 250 hours can be spent working on other Habitat homes in the community or working at various Habitat events. When those are completed, the family can move into their new home, where they will complete an additional 50 hours.

Habitat West Bay and Northern RI is one of Rhode Island’s four affiliates within Habitat for Humanity International. They became an official affiliate in December 1995 and expanded to include northern Rhode Island in 2000. On Saturdays, 10 to 12 volunteers are selected from a dedicated pool of 2,000 to work at the various construction sites. Habitat West Bay is currently working on houses in Woonsocket and Burrillville. While some groups have a dedicated schedule, the majority of volunteers are on stand-by, waiting for the call that they are needed.

Everyone at Habitat West Bay is a volunteer, and they receive support from the community and local businesses through donations of goods and services. When they were building a home on Providence Street, the donations made all the difference.

Carriere recalls that all the insulation work for the house was done free of charge by Greenville Insulation of Smithfield. Blinds To Go provided all the blinds for the house and the electrician that set up the house only asked that the supplies be provided.

Fundraising helps raise both money and awareness. Last July Habitat West Bay raised more than $16,000 for their Veterans Build program at a “Jeeps Meet Motorcycles” event at Dan’s Place in West Greenwich, where 80 vehicles, and even a mix of Jeeps and motorcycles, came out to support the veterans.

Amy Gates, vice president of Habitat West Bay, was inspired to host the event after attending a Habitat International conference last March in Atlanta, Ga.

“I started talking to a man at the Veterans Build stand,” she said. “It’s important that the guys coming back from overseas get a chance to volunteer and help in the community.”

On Friday, Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m., Habitat West Bay will be hosting a “Homeowner Orientation” at the Greenwood Community Church, Presbyterian in Warwick. There, families can apply to join the West Bay program.

Applicants will need to provide their income information, including two pay stubs for each working adult in the home, SSC benefits (SSI or SSDI), alimony or child support income and two years of tax returns, if self-employed. Applicants should also bring any debt information, such as current rent, monthly car payments, insurance payments, childcare costs and credit card, personal or student loans.

For those not interested in applying for a home, but still want to be a part of the Habitat West Bay community, there are meetings on the second Wednesday of every month, either at Arnold Mills Church in Cumberland or the Greenwood Community Church in Warwick. These meetings are available to the members of the public that wish to volunteer or join the board. Call the Habitat West Bay office at 732-6407 for more information.

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