The approach of summer finds Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County at work on several projects and raising funds to pay the rising costs of the materials needed to complete them.
The non-profit home-building/home-improvement organization’s online art auction is underway now, and on June 10 it will hold its Jamboree, a dance party fundraiser.
It’s also continuing to reap the frequent, random support of businesses and individuals across the region.
“It happens a lot and we’re so grateful for that,” Executive Director Madelyn Thorne said of donations of money and goods. “It’s really hard to be cynical when you’re with Habitat because you see the best of people.”
It’s part of the community-helping-community theme of Habitat, which centers on future owners working on their future homes alongside volunteers to instill a sense of sweat equity, and keep the purchase price as low as possible.
Counting works in progress, Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County has built or rehabbed 61 houses since forming in 1993.
It never halted its construction efforts through the pandemic and was exempt from closure because it builds housing for the needy. But it also lost the benefit of schools and businesses recruiting platoons of one-time volunteers for projects.
“So it was just the core group of 15-20 volunteers,” Thorne said. “It was a tough year but we never stopped.”
That’s over now, but another challenge has taken its place: The list of materials for a new build now runs $150,000 instead of $100,000.
“We get very strong funding for our houses,” Thorne said. “There’s a lot of partners that come together to do this but we have to look at these costs and how we’re going to move forward.”
Raising the money is only part of the challenge; once it’s in hand, Habitat can’t always find the material they want to spend it on.
“The availability is as much a problem as the skyrocketing costs,” she said.
Habitat organizations in Schenectady, Albany and Glens Falls are considering forming a collective to have a better shot at the scarce and expensive materials they need, Thorne said.
Countering this is the continued support the organization receives from regular and unexpected allies.
Rivers Casino donated the space for the Jamboree, recruits volunteer work crews from its workforce and sends cold bottled water to construction sites.
IUE-CWA covers the cost of materials for Ramp Up, a program through which Habitat builds wheelchair ramps or installs lifts at the homes of those who need but can’t afford them.
The Lowe’s in Glenville recently swapped out its kitchen displays and donated the appliances and fixtures in the old displays to Habitat for sale in its ReStore, a downtown retail store selling furniture and appliances.
Sixteen local artists took pieces from the ReStore (not the items Lowe’s donated) and turned them into functional or decorative works of art offered for sale in the online auction underway through June 10.
And as part of their revitalization efforts, the city of Schenectady and the Capital Region Land Bank continue to provide the real estate Habitat needs for its projects.
It was the Land Bank’s suggestion in fact that led to a first for the Schenectady affiliate of Habitat: an income apartment within a large house the organization is rehabilitating at 760 Eastern Ave.
All the other houses Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County has built or repaired have been one-family houses, Thorne said. Some of Habitat’s typical buyers won’t want the extra work of being a landlord, she said, but for the right buyer, the apartment at 760 Eastern will provide help paying the mortgage.
Also underway: new houses at 1688 and 1706 Carrie St.; one new house on Lenox Road that just sold and one that is 99% complete and will close next month; and two foundations poured at the corner of First Avenue and Orchard Streets that eventually will be topped with new houses. A wheelchair ramp recently was completed at a house on Ulster Street in Schenectady and a wheelchair lift recently was started in Scotia.
The ReStore operation, meanwhile, brings income in while diverting perfectly useful items from the landfill.
“It’s a lot,” Thorne said. “We’re an effective organization.”