Saratoga County

Habitat for Humanity eyeing Saratoga County

Capital District Habitat for Humanity volunteers want to branch out and begin putting roofs over the
Steve Haggerty, executive director for Capital District Habitat for Humanity, stands in front of Mary’s House on O’Dell Street in Albany on Monday. The home is expected to be complete by August.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Steve Haggerty, executive director for Capital District Habitat for Humanity, stands in front of Mary’s House on O’Dell Street in Albany on Monday. The home is expected to be complete by August.

Capital District Habitat for Humanity volunteers want to branch out and begin putting roofs over the heads of families in Saratoga County who are without a place to call home.

Since 1988, Capital District Habitat for Humanity has built 43 homes for qualifying low-income families, and although the agency’s coverage area is all of Albany County and part of Southern Saratoga County, until now all of the homes have been built in Albany. Habitat directors said they’ve been trying for decades to launch a house-building project in the Clifton Park area or south, but efforts have been thwarted for several reasons.

“We have long established partnerships in Albany County and we need to develop that with Saratoga County officials,” Steve Haggerty, executive director of Capital District Habitat for Humanity said. “The tax structure in Albany also works for us, but in the rural areas of Saratoga County, it’s not economically feasible. That’s why we don’t build in the hilltowns of Albany.”

Once started, Haggerty said, he hopes to see more homes springing up in Saratoga County.

“All I need is a toe-hold,” Haggerty said.

Members of St. Edward the Confessor Church in Clifton Park, currently sponsoring an Albany habitat home, are leading a project called “Closer to Home Build 2009,” in which they hope to break ground on the Saratoga County house next year. But before the first shovelful of dirt can be moved, the project already faces one major roadblock: acquiring land.

“We want to build in Mechanicville or Waterford, but property is so much more expensive there than in Albany,” the Rev. Pat Butler of St. Edward’s said. “There are so many needy families in Saratoga County, but we’re facing an enormous difficulty finding suitable property because land is at a premium.”

Members at St. Edward’s congregation are hoping for the best case scenario where someone donates land, or sells it at a cut-rate price for a charitable write-off allowed by nonprofit agencies. Organizers said they’d also be interested in rehabilitating a structure already in place. Habitat has historically also received donations from municipalities that, through foreclosures for tax delinquency, can grant the land to Habitat under the stipulation that they build affordable housing.

While demographics in Albany County have shown ongoing needs for single-family dwellings, in Saratoga County the best use of land and volunteer resources may be to build multi-family housing, something already being done in big cities.

“In larger metropolitan areas like New York City and Chicago, other Habitats have been doing this as their model for awhile,” Haggerty said. “This steps away from our established model, but it’s a step we’ve been hoping to take for several years.”

Haggerty said the Saratoga County project will tentatively be done to house four to six families. At closing, the titles of each separate unit will be transferred over by Habitat to the families who will take up residence. Habitat does not maintain any ownership after the closing date.

Parishioners at St. Edward’s have already sponsored Mary’s House on O’Dell Street in downtown Albany. Sponsorship includes donating about half of the project price, or $35,000 out of the $75,000 cost.

One church member, Jane Melville of Clifton Park, gave the fund raising a hefty boost with a gift of $17,000 to build Mary’s House.

“I chose Habitat because their process works,” Melville said. “It pulls an entire community together around a common goal, and that’s to have a positive impact on a family’s life, one family at a time.”

The remaining funds came from other St. Edward’s Church families, who then began to put in sweat equity by traveling to Albany to pitch in on the actual construction, from hammering nails to grading the backyard.

Mary’s House is being built for single mother Holly Nicholson, who has three children ages 3 to 13. Haggerty said the plan is to have the certificate of occupancy by Aug. 15, with final touches done and the title transferred to Nicholson by mid-September. Families assist in the project by logging in 350 hours into the construction of their home.

Meanwhile, the Closer to Home Build team has identified Waterford as a viable area to begin scouring for property.

“For instance, there are sites across the street from each other on Broad Street in Waterford where separate fires have destroyed existing structures and left a significant gap on the village’s main thoroughfare,” Haggerty said.

But the group will cast a wide net for land, entertaining offers anywhere in the southern Saratoga area to develop this project.

“We’re open to virtually any ideas and suggestions to make this work,” Haggerty said.

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