It is quite a Christmas present to get keys to a new home, the first one you have ever owned and for seven families in the Bronx, this was a real holiday to celebrate.
All of these New York families shared the dream of home ownership and weren’t afraid to literally sweat to make it happen. (Family partners must contribute hours of sweat equity per adult, which included nailing, installing sheet rock and painting.)
On a seasonable cold and sunny day, a brief home dedication took place at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church on E. 156th St., Bronx. In opening remarks, Habitat-NYC’s Board Chair Father Mark Hallinan emphasized the transformative impact Habitat homes have on the city and the contributions the new homeowners make to the neighborhood.
“Habitat can work,” said Councilmember Maria del Carmen Aroyo of District 17 who is a strong backer of Habitat and helps allocate some funds to their projects. “I know you’ve worked really, really hard,” she said to the new owners adding, “This is the poorest congressional district in the nation (16th, South Bronx). You’re part of the work to improve it. I welcome you.“
The new Bronx homes are on Fox St. at Leggett Ave. in a mixed-income development and are named in honor of General Colin L. Powell, who grew up in the neighborhood. The project was built in partnership with Habitat for Humanity – New York City, Blue Sea Development Company and the City of New York.
Les Bluestone is the commercial housing developer. When he proposes these mixed income projects to local communities, he frequently gets the door slammed in his face. He said, “This event reminds the partners in development why we do this.”
After keys were presented in the ceremony, families led a procession of relatives, friends, Habitat-NYC supporters and elected officials to the Fox St. building, where they blessed their new homes.
One of the new owners is Cruzmaria Renvill, a physical therapy assistant who lives and works in the Bronx. In searching for affordable housing for her and her 11-year-old daughter Gabriella she found out about Habitat-NYC program from the Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) website. Unlike her previous apartment, she now has two bedrooms. “Everything is state of the art and I’m not paying the landlord anymore,” the proud owner said.
In her sweat equity, Cruzmaria learned a lot from the AmeriCorps volunteers she worked alongside, gaining confidence with tools. Each Saturday in the summer, she took a 10-week home maintenance class that included learning about electrical and plumbing. This helps reduce the cost of repairs, learning to diagnose problems and knowing what to look for.
“I really enjoyed the first buyers classes,” Renville said, referring to the four-week course also required of new family partners.
The seven Habitat-NYC families contributed “sweat equity” along with Habitat-NYC volunteers. These first-time homeowners earn between 50 percent – 80 percent of the city’s area median income ($38,400 to $61,450 for a family of four) and are coming from housing that is overcrowded, high-priced or in poor condition.
This project marks the first of its kind; both locally and nationally, with a domestic Habitat affiliate building affordable multifamily homes in collaboration with a for-profit affordable housing developer.
It is also one of the “greenest” buildings in the city. It has a green roof that insulates and reduces storm water runoff, a co-generation system that produces electricity and hot water and a healthy indoor environment through non-toxic materials and a controlled filtered ventilation system.