Home, sweet home

L to R: Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity construction chair Dick Shasteen; Button’s boyfriend, Harold; homeowner Betty Button; Habitat board president Gary Friche; University of Vermont Catholic Center director Father Jon Schnobrich; Habitat advancement director Catherine Stevens and Habitat executive director David Mullin. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Betty Button is a self-proclaimed basketcase, but it’s all for good reason.

Ever since she received a call that Habitat for Humanity would build her a home in Milton, she hasn’t stopped crying from excitement. The emotion brimmed over at the home’s ceremonial groundbreaking at 100 Railroad St. last Thursday.

“I’m ecstatic. I just can’t believe this is happening,” Button said, wiping away tears.

Button and her young grandchildren, 7 and 10, all live in a trailer in Hinesburg together, but by the end of the year, they’ll upgrade to a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom single-floor ranch, courtesy of Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity.

The affiliate is one of seven in Vermont, all part of a global nonprofit that aims to provide every family with affordable, quality housing. The local chapter has built 60 homes in Chittenden County, and Button’s future home is the second Milton project.

Habitat purchased two Railroad Street lots at the beginning of the year, and next year, volunteers will start building the next home.

“We’re just always trying to find affordable land that we can buy that’s also convenient for families to live in,” said Catherine Stevens, Green Mountain Habitat advancement director.

Habitat recognizes the serious need for affordable housing in Chittenden County, where the median home price is upward of $250,000, according to Hickok & Boardman Realty’s most recent market report.

That’s far out of reach for families making minimum wage, and as banks tighten up the mortgage process, those families are less likely to qualify for loans and often resort to renting in inferior and sometimes unsafe conditions, Stevens said.

That’s why ownership of a Habitat home – at 0 percent interest with no money down – is often a financial relief. They’re also energy efficient from top to bottom to keep utilities low, providing more disposable income to stimulate the local economy, Stevens said.

Families in need of affordable, sustainable housing far outnumber Habitat homes, and the qualifying process is lengthy, beginning at information meetings in the area; Button attended one at a Milton church last fall.

Eligible families must live in substandard rental housing and make less than 60 percent of the median household income – about $60,000 here, according to a 2012 Vermont Housing Finance Agency report – but must also have income to pay the mortgage.

Betty Button, center, is the recipient of a Habitat for Humanity house in Milton. She’s flanked by boyfriend, Harold, and best friend, Valerie Fitzgerald, at the ceremonial groundbreaking last Thursday. (Photo by Courtney Lamdin)

Habitat’s volunteer-based family selection committee has the daunting task of reviewing applications and choosing a family, who must be willing to invest “sweat equity” into the project – everything from helping with construction to feeding volunteers.

Habitat homes are financed through a 25-year, no-interest loan, and the homeowner’s monthly mortgage payments go into a revolving fund to construct more Habitat homes, like Button’s future neighbor down the street.

A medical assistant at the University of Vermont Medical Center, Button attended the ceremony with her boyfriend, Harold, and longtime friend, Valerie Fitzgerald, who remembers when Button got the life changing call.

Fitzgerald was at the bowling alley with her husband and received Button’s emotional call. She frantically asked Button if she was OK.

“’Yes … no!’” she recalls Button saying. “’We got it!’ And then of course I start crying.”

That day, Button picked up her grandchildren from the babysitter’s. When they saw her in tears, she relayed the same announcement. Now, the kids can’t wait to put their hand and footprints in the freshly-laid cement outside their new home.

“We’re very excited,” Button said. “Everybody is.”

An out-of-state anonymous donor largely financed Button’s home in honor of Pope Francis, whose name is printed in big, bold letters on a sign at the construction site.

“It’s a really nice, family-friendly design,” Habitat construction chair Dick Shasteen said, noting it’s a replica of Habitat houses in Charlotte. “Every time we build it, we’ll build it just a little bit better and a little bit more efficiently.”

Habitat is working with Efficiency Vermont to get the highest possible energy ratings, using high quality roofing materials and windows with lifetime guarantees and installing a heat recovery ventilation system.

The construction is done by volunteers, with the exception of sub-contracted jobs like plumbing and electrical that requires specific skills and equipment, Shasteen said.

Habitat keeps costs down by partnering with local businesses that offer significant discounts. A Bouchard Pierce employee designed the kitchen, and the company offered materials at cost; Georgia-based Harrison Concrete offered services at no charge, Shasteen said.

This allows Habitat to sell the house at cost, or about half of the market rate for an identical home, Green Mountain Habitat executive director David Mullin said.

“It’s the volunteers in the community coming out, offering their gift,” Mullin said, “whether that’s the ability to dig holes, pound together lumber or bake snacks for the volunteers.”

“It’s a partnership,” Habitat board president Gary Friche added. “I don’t know of any better example in the world of taking care of people and helping each other than Habitat for Humanity.”

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