Saratoga Springs

United Methodist parishioner donating land for Habitat home in Saratoga Springs; Plan requires city approval

Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church Pastor Heather Williams and parishioner Willard Chamberlin at the church in Saratoga Springs Monday.
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Saratoga Springs United Methodist Church Pastor Heather Williams and parishioner Willard Chamberlin at the church in Saratoga Springs Monday.

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A parishioner of United Methodist Church wants the city’s approval to cut his land in half so that Habitat for Humanity can build a home right next door. 

Willard Chamberlin Jr. of 143 West Circular St. said his own upbringing in New Hampshire prompted him to donate the parcel to the Habitat chapter representing Northern Saratoga, Warren & Washington counties.

The longtime Spa City resident remembered growing up in an apartment with a landlord who often argued with his parents.

Chamberlin said his family’s landlord let it be known he didn’t like kids like he and his brothers on the property.

“My parents ended up buying a house across the river in Windsor, Vermont,” said Chamberlin. “Even though it was a small house, at least we were a family together and we didn’t have landlord problems and we had a yard to play in — and I would just like to do that for someone else.”

Chamberlin’s modest-sized lot is a third of an acre.

He wants to donate .16 acres, essentially his side yard, to Habitat for Humanity, a Moreau-based organization that advocates for homeownership.

Habitat is seeking permission from the zoning board to subdivide the land. It would then build a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house.

The project recently went before the Planning Board, which was asked to provide an advisory opinion to the city Zoning Board of Appeals.

Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity’s Executive Director Adam Feldman has a longstanding relationship with United Methodist Church.

Last year, Pastor Heather Williams and leaders of United Methodist Church’s congregation asked Feldman how the church could help Habitat for Humanity.

Williams, who’s in her seventh year as pastor, said a church member who passed away left a large sum of money to the church, and in that member’s honor, the church was considering ways it could contribute to the community in a significant way.

But Feldman reasoned that land in Saratoga Springs would cost $100,000 to $200,000.

“I don’t really think that’s the best way to use your money,” Feldman said.

“But if you can find a piece of land, we can build an affordable property and sell it to someone,” he suggested.

That’s when Chamberlin offered his land, on the condition Habitat conduct all of the legwork required by the city.

“I said I really don’t want to deal with the city,” Chamberlin said. “I’m not good at dealing with politicians and all that stuff. So he was willing to do that.”

Williams said: “I’m ecstatic and delighted and I can’t wait to see what happens and how the community comes together around this project.”

Feldman said he hasn’t had the land appraised, but it’s clearly a “big donation” that’s probably worth $100,000 to $150,000.

“It’s an extremely generous offer and a great partnership,” Feldman said. “It’s super exciting.”

If approved, it would be Saratoga Springs’ fifth Habitat for Humanity home.

Feldman said the organization will start the process of selecting a family for the home in the spring. The hope is to break ground in the late spring or early summer. It typically takes about nine to 12 months to build a Habitat home.

Feldman said a Habitat family in Saratoga Springs would have annual earnings of $40,000 to $60,000 a year.

The chosen family would then get a mortgage from the bank of, say $100,000 or $150,000, and Habitat for Humanity would help cover the remaining balance through state, city, and federal grants and volunteer labor, Feldman said.

Once it’s built, the house will be worth $250,000 to $300,000.

“They’ll be making monthly payments of around $1,000 a month to own a home in downtown Saratoga Springs,” Feldman said. “It’s hard to build affordable homes in the city of Saratoga Springs because everything’s more expensive, the land being the biggest part of that expense.”

Saratoga Springs is a focus area for Habitat for Humanity, said Feldman, noting the Spa City’s gentrification.

“Low- to moderate-income homeownership is impossible without us,” he said. “It just does not exist, period. We are the only solution for someone making $50,000 to $60,000 a year to afford a home, and honestly Habitat doesn’t support families making $100,000 a year. But even at $100,000 a year I don’t think you can afford a home in the city.”

The city’s strategic plan puts great effort into affordable housing, including affordable rentals, Feldman said, noting the new affordable apartments at the Intrada, and new city housing authority units.

“We play the homeownership piece,” Feldman said.

The Habitat director said there’s still a notion Habitat “gives away” homes. It’s quite the opposite.

“We believe in sweat equity over cash equity, so the families only need $2,500 for a down payment, and then they earn the rest of their down payment by volunteering to build the house with the community. In addition to that, they also need to have good enough credit to qualify for a mortgage — and then they pay around $1,000 a month, give or take, to own the home.”

Chamberlin moved to the area in 1971, when he and a business partner built a mobile home park in Wilton. He’s lived in his Saratoga Springs home for 39 years, buying it in 1981 and converting it from a single-family into a two-family home before he moved in. He said he’s looking forward to having a Habitat family for a neighbor.

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

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