Habitat for Humanity making good progress on new Greeneville homes
Norwich ― A new neighborhood continues to take shape between Margerie and Sylvester streets in Greeneville, a partnership between the city and Habitat for Humanity of Eastern Connecticut.
But a second aspect of the partnership, originally funded with $1.2 million from the city’s $28.8 million American Rescue Plan Act grant, has progressed much slower, prompting City Manager John Salomone to recommend cutting the funding in half.
Salomone initially proposed the innovative partnership in summer of 2021 as he formulated his plan to allocate the ARPA grants. Salomone wanted to dedicate a substantial amount for affordable housing, both for homeownership and to rehabilitate some of the city’s blighted housing stock. He approached Habitat for Humanity for the two-fold plan.
Habitat already was working on a plan to build 10 new homes in a formerly vacant lot between Margerie and Sylvester streets in Greeneville. The dublex homes, built on slabs, are connected only by a utility shed in between the coupled houses. The city contributed $360,000 in ARPA funds to help finance the project.
Another $840,000 in ARPA funds was allocated toward a new plan to turn over appropriate foreclosed homes to Habitat for Humanity to be rehabilitated into affordable housing for new homeowners. That project has been “slow to go forward,” Salomone told the City Council Tuesday during a presentation on ARPA funding to date.
Some of the homes Norwich has obtained recently are too large to meet Habitat’s needs, or the vacant lots are too difficult to develop, Salomone and Habitat Executive Director Sarah Lufler said.
“They don’t need larger, old Victorian homes,” Salomone said. “A lot of the homes that we have obtained do not meet the criteria. So that slowed it down quite a bit.”
Salomone is recommending to reclaim almost half the rehabilitation grant, leaving $440,000 for Habitat and placing the remaining $400,000 into the city’s available grant fund to be spent on other projects.
Salomone said Wednesday he remains committed to the Habitat program he proposed and hopes the agency can help the city turn blighted vacant houses into rehabilitated homes for families. But when Habitat applied to the city for an additional $200,000 in ARPA grant money, he recommended against the request, citing the unspent rehabilitation funds.
“I didn’t see a need at this point to supplement what they were asking for, so it’s recommended that not be funded,” Salomone told the City Council.
Lufler plans to ask city officials to reconsider her additional request. She will speak at a public forum at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Rose City Senior Center on Salomone’s recommendations for reallocating unspent funds in the ARPA grant.
Lufler said Habitat has agreed to take on two Norwich properties, both vacant lots, at 152 Prospect St. in Greeneville and 702 New London Turnpike, where a house had been damaged by fire and was demolished. The $440,000 remaining ARPA grant will “more than cover” the costs to build new homes on those properties, she said, and she plans to work with the city to use the remaining grant funds.
She put in for $200,000 in additional funds to purchase low-cost properties and rehabilitate the homes. One family has donated a fire-damaged house, and she will ask for city funds to help rehabilitate it, she said.
Greeneville neighborhood rising
Meanwhile on Margerie and Sylvester streets, the mild winter, along with the city’s $360,000 ARPA grant have helped speed along construction and competition of the 10 homes.
A team of volunteers worked diligently outdoors Thursday morning to beat the pending rain to nail down floor decking on the final house’s foundation and cover it with a tarp. Roof trusses were set to be delivered and stored to be waiting and ready when framing starts.
To date, four homes are completed, sold and occupied. Two more, with addresses of 49 Margerie and 50 Sylvester, will be completed by the end of March, with families selected, attending homeownership classes and working on their required “sweat equity” labor hours. Two more will be done by the end of July, and the final two homes by Sept. 1, Lufler said.
“We are just coming to the end of a selection process,” Lufler said. “Families who applied last September will be placed in February. A new application process starts in March.”
Lufler thanked the city for its contribution to the project. Having all funds available allowed Habitat to preorder all interior fixtures, equipment and appliances for all the homes so crews would face no delays once the houses are framed. When the winter weather turns bad, they can work inside the framed homes, she added.
Looking forward to moving in
Abdullah Ismail and his wife, Menetta Adellah spent much of Thursday working inside the house at 49 Margerie St. that is enclosed and framed out. This will be their neighbor’s house. Their home is the attached ranch house at 50 Sylvester St. The couple has two daughters, ages 9 and 2, and Adellah is due in May with their third daughter.
“We are so excited to move here,” Ismail said Thursday, standing in what will be the family’s kitchen.
Ismail, 45, and Adellah, 38, of Norwich learned of the Habitat homeownership program from a friend who also has a Habitat house. The couple are Ethiopian/Sudanese immigrants to the United States by way of Lebanon. Ismael said the New London-based refugee assistance agency Start Fresh helped with their application to Habitat. Ismail works at a New London Mercedes dealership.
Habitat homebuyers typically contribute 250 to 300 hours of sweat equity on their own and other construction projects, Lufler said, but she said that’s flexible, given Adellah’s advanced pregnancy. Ismail estimated they have each worked about 100 hours thus far.
The house is scheduled to be completed by the end of March, but no closing date for the mortgage and no move-in dates have been set.
“We’re hoping she can have the baby here,” Ismail said.