Sunday, May 28, 2017

Habitat changes


It’s a funny thing when a transformation renders a once-popular nickname irrelevant. Strolling past clean, well-maintained homes on a certain section of East Parmenter Street in Newburgh, you’d never guess that until a few years ago this area was dubbed “crack alley”.

Earlier this month I took a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood Tour with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh, a free public event similar to an open house and bus tour of their projects within the city. The event began at Habitat’s main office on Washington Street with a video about the agency. Staff elaborated on Habitat’s mission, we heard testimonials from homeowner families who escaped housing issues like overcrowding and deterioration, and volunteers talked about what inspired them to start working with the organization.


Executive Director Kathy Collins demonstrated the impact of Habitat and the needs it meets. The organization has served 101 families since its founding and is about to dedicate its 88th house next month. In addition to also constructing shelters for families in other countries, most recently in Mexico and Haiti, the organization does minor exterior repairs for agencies that serve the community. Collins explained the family selection process from home visits to the final decision made by the board of directors. Staff talked about situations that face families such as severe overcrowding, children seeping in closets, poorly-functioning bathrooms, fuseboxes located in a separate apartment, and apartments entirely without electricity. One family had a heater that shot fire into the center of the living quarters. The cabinets in one family’s kitchen were covered in aluminum foil to shield them from leaks from an upstairs apartment. Other examples were a toilet that spun around. Why do families stay in these situations? Many either don’t know their rights or they fear eviction. The families who qualify for assistance are hardworking and employed, but don’t have the means to walk away from a bad situation.


Staff answered common frequently asked questions and dispelled myths about how families are chosen. Staff examine a family’s income, their work history, and their ability to partner with the agency by providing 250-500 hours of “sweat equity” in their own home, that of another, or at the ReStore shop. Families must take classes on budgeting, credit, home repair, and how to be a good neighbor. Habitat is funded through individual gifts, volunteers, and some government funding usually for the purpose of lead and asbestos abatement.

Next was a tour of some of the organization’s projects. We began by walking next door to 123 Washington Street to explore a live/work project which combines living and commercial space. This style targets entrepreneurs and this particular home belonged to a photographer and his family. The Collins explained that Whirlpool donates stoves and fridges to each project, and that the bamboo flooring we stood upon was allergen-free and more sustainable than hardwoods.  


We boarded a small bus for the mobile part of our tour. The use of bus itself was donated and driven by Frank, the CFO is local Leprechaun Lines. Heading down Ann Street we saw a 3-family building being stabilized alongside a grassy lot that was to remain as green space. Next up was a Veterans Build project on Clark Street, 3 gut rehabs in different stages on South Miller Street. Some of these projects were partnership with the Newburgh Community Land Bank and RUPCO and are part of a plan to stabilize the whole block. One home featured lumber from the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. As we viewed projects, staff passed around photos of buildings with boarded windows and charred roofs, to show us how they looked before renovations. 


On our drive down Chambers Street we learned this block had no sidewalks at the start. Habitat doesn’t use vinyl siding on buildings, but prefers a hardy cementitious version. Next we crossed Broadway and turned onto East Parmenter, formerly known as “crack alley”, which featured projects completed by Americorps volunteers and Faith Build. Other building groups include Women Build, Episcopal Build, Gap Industries, Veterans Build, Health build with Saint Luke’s Hospital, and Education Build. Around the corner stood a building used as transitional housing for families in dire circumstances until their homes are ready.

This regularly scheduled tour is a great way to learn and ask questions about how the organization is reshaping the footprint of the City of Newburgh as they work to eradicate poverty, bring the American dream to more people, better the health and wellbeing of children, generate city revitalization and environmental restoration, develop community, and expand the tax base.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Newburgh: www.habitatnewburgh.org

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