Habitat looks beyond milestone

MICHAEL KELLY The Marietta Times Ashley Sams, center, talks with Lisa Collins of Habitat for Humanity of the Mid-Ohio Valley and Ed Bonar, Habitat’s construction manager, in the hallway of her nearly-complete new house in Williamstown. Her home is expected to be done in about two weeks; it will be the 100th home built by the organization.

WILLIAMSTOWN–On Friday morning, Ashley Sams walked down the hallway of her new Williamstown house and took a look at the bathroom mirror construction manager Ed Bonar had helped her choose. Getting a home of her own had been a long, demanding road for the 29-year-old single working mom.

“The main thing is, people think it’s welfare. It’s not. These actually are working families trying to better themselves,” she said.

Her home, nearing completion, is the 100th built by Habitat for Humanity of the Mid-Ohio Valley, which this week launched its annual Caring Campaign with the goal of raising $175,000 before mid-February of next year.

The nonprofit builds homes for qualified families in Wood and Washington counties, using land and materials that are donated or bought at a discount and labor augmented by a host of volunteers. Families purchase the homes through no-interest mortgage lending and put volunteer work into their own houses and those of other Habitat home buyers.

The process began for Sams in March 2016 when she attended a Habitat informational meeting. In the following weeks, she determined her income was adequate to qualify and under tutelage from Habitat she worked on her credit standing and took classes to learn budgeting and household financial management. Part of being accepted into the program was committing 75 volunteer hours to working on other people’s Habitat homes before getting to view Habitat’s property inventory, then another 175 hours after being accepted and picking her land.

Sams managed that even with her full-time schedule at Heartland of Marietta, where she does medical records and social services work, but she had some help from friends and co-workers — 25 percent of the volunteer requirement can be done by others, she said.

“I’m here every Saturday and sometimes I use personal time off,” she said.

Habitat’s clients can choose from its inventory of building lots in Wood and Washington counties, and then have several floor plans to choose from, said Lisa Collins, Habitat’s resource development coordinator. The buyers also consult with the construction manager, Ed Bonar, on finishes such as light fixtures and cabinet hardware.

Sams immediately chose the Williamstown lot, at the north end of town a short distance from the river, as the ideal location for her and her 3-year-old son, Jissai. The home layout is three bedrooms and two baths, about 1,300 square feet, with a porch that wraps around two sides of the house and a roomy backyard. The new Williamstown Elementary School will be built only blocks away, and Jissai will go there in a couple of years.

In addition to learning financial management for her family, Sams also has picked up some building skills during her volunteer time with Habitat.

“I learned so much about construction, it’s amazing to watch the process,” she said. Moreover, she widened her social sphere during months of working on her house and those of others.

“I consider Habitat part of my family now,” she said.

Bonar said the work is satisfying on many fronts, one being the direct and lengthy contact with his clients, the families the organization helps.

“The beauty is, once the house is done you’ve also created a relationship for life,” he said.

The groundbreaking for Sams’ house was held May 8, Collins said. The lot was donated by the Williamstown Bank, and one sponsor added $25,000 for the construction costs.

Sams said the new home will change her environment radically. She lives in an apartment up (she has counted them) 28 steps, with no laundry equipment and a kitchen sink “being held together with duct tape.” The new home’s mortgage, a 20-year loan, will carry monthly payments slightly less than the rent she is paying now, she said.

Collins said Habitat’s objective is to help people who would normally fall through the cracks — those who make too much for public housing assistance but not enough to qualify for a bank loan – to get decent housing at a reasonable cost.

Standing on the porch of her Williamstown home, Sams said the house is the completion of a long-standing dream — having her own home, with a red door. She said she bought the red paint that day.

“Habitat gave me hope,” she said. “I had settled for less because I didn’t think it was possible. You don’t have to marry a rich guy to have your own house.”

The benefits of Habitat homes extend well into the future, said Habitat director of resource development Robin Stewart.

“Home ownership is a great way to build stability for a family,” she said. “It has deep impact and benefits.”

The organization expects to complete another six houses in the next year, including one in Belpre where a groundbreaking is to be celebrated Tuesday.

One challenge the organization faces is a shortage of suitable building lots in Washington County, Stewart said.

“Families that are applying don’t have a lot of options in Washington County right now,” she said. “We attempt to maintain an inventory so they have options, and the options are greater in Wood County than they are in Washington County.”

Habitat prefers fairly flat properties outside flood plains, to avoid burdening home owners with flood insurance, that have access to public sewer and water.

At a glance

Habitat for Humanity of the Mid-Ohio Valley

¯ Established: 2016, when Habitat for Humanity of Wood County (founded in 1990) and Habitat for Humanity of Washington County (founded in 1989) merged into a single organization.

¯ Homes built: 100 (including a nearly-complete project in Williamstown).

¯ Goal: Build five or six homes per year in Wood and Washington counties for qualified families in need of decent housing.

¯ Mission: Build homes, communities and hope in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

¯ Caring Campaign goal: Raise $175,000 from the community.

¯ Extra: Habitat Re-Store (building materials, household goods), 600 16th St., Vienna, 304-422-4828

¯ For information: habitatmov.com

P.O. Box 462, Parkersburg, WV 26102