Houses With Hope

Habitat for Humanity builds a better Suffolk.

In 1987 a dream was born to provide safe and affordable housing for responsible low-income working families in Suffolk County, Long Island. At that time, Habitat for Humanity International was building homes throughout the world. But in Suffolk County, one of the most affluent counties in the United States, there was no hope of home ownership for the working poor. In order to remedy this problem, a group of people from the Mount Sinai Congregational United Church of Christ founded Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk. Today Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk is one of the largest and most successful Habitat for Humanity International affiliates.

By the end of 2010, Habitat Suffolk made the dream of home ownership come true for 144 families. Today, it continues to add more homeowners to the Habitat family by increasing the building production rate to 11 homes in 2011 with the support of Suffolk County, townships, individuals, corporations, foundations, congregations and organizations. Thanks to dedicated volunteer board leadership and staff, Habitat Suffolk continues to be an important part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis in Suffolk County on Long Island.

At all home completions, since the first one in 1989 in Riverhead through the most recent house dedication in Patchogue, new homeowners are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from Habitat volunteers. “This Habitat house has changed our lives in many ways,” says Cathy Strand-O’Shea, who moved into a new home in November 2010 with her three sons. “We have a place to call home forever. It’s ours! We all seem to have a newfound confidence. Roots mean a lot, and we’ll grow them deep here. This has been a great opportunity and a blessing for my family.”

It is estimated that 300 or more volunteers work on each home, donating a total of 1,800 hours of their time. To date, approximately 348 Suffolk County children have gone from substandard housing to having a room of their own. “I’m going to play in our own yard, meet new friends and still have the friends I have in Brentwood, paint my room hot pink and bright green polka dots, go to South Country Middle School and start my new life,” says Madison Sabolenko, age 10, whose family was helped by Habitat Suffolk. “I feel like I want to cry for joy and happiness.” Sabolenko, her mother and 9-year-old brother Matthew recently moved into a Patchogue home built by Habitat Suffolk.

But families involved with Habitat Suffolk don’t only receive, they also give. “Like everything in life you have to work for what you want,” says Les Scheinfeld, associate director of Habitat Suffolk. “We are a hand up not a handout affordable housing program, in which the homeowners pay a 20-year, zero-interest mortgage. [There’s] no monetary down payment required. The down payment is the year’s worth of sweat equity work a new homeowner performs on other Habitat homes before getting their own home.”

A family must meet eligibility guidelines by earning $40,720-$61,080 gross annual income, with an adjustment for each additional family member older than age 4.

And there’s plenty for homeowners and builders to celebrate. This year, Habitat Suffolk commemorates the fifth anniversary of ReStore, a facility that supports the services provided by the nonprofit organization. The income generated from ReStore helps expand Habitat Suffolk’s building program. ReStore recycles overstocked, discontinued and new and used building materials donated by manufacturers, stores, contractors and individuals. These donated items are sold to the public or used in the construction of Habitat houses. Habitat Suffolk has several events planned for 2011 to help support its affordable housing programs. The events include a Faith Walk, a golf outing and a ceremony marking the anniversary of Habitat Suffolk ReStore.

To obtain further information about Habitat Suffolk and its programs, call (631)924-4966 or see www.habitatsuffolk.org. For further details about Habitat Suffolk ReStore, dial (631)521-7789 or send an e-mail to
restore@habitatsuffolk.org.