Crystal Hodge said her future Habitat for Humanity home on Carrie Street in Schenectady is a dream come true for her and her two children.
Habitat for Humanity of Schenectady County marked its 50th home on Wednesday — a two-story house slated for 1685 Carrie St. for Hodge and her children Jariel, 6, and Victoria, 20 months.
“This is kind of what I’ve always envisioned,” she said in front of the property during Habitat’s groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday morning. “Prior to the whole Habitat I always wanted a two-story house with a picket fence. You know, the American dream.”
Hodge, who is from the Bronx and now lives on Oakwood Avenue, said the home is another step in the right direction after escaping from a past abusive relationship.
“When I first came to Schenectady I didn’t know anything or anyone,” she said. “I met my son’s father and that relationship went south really quickly. There was a lot of physical, verbal and mental abuse that I suffered and endured when I was with him.”
She said the Schenectady Community Action Program offered her transitional housing and employment services. The program connected her with a job at the Glendale Nursing Home, where she has worked for nearly six years.
She said SCAP has been her “home base” and joked that she loves the retirement package at Glendale.
Hodge said Miriam Cajuste, president of Schenectady Habitat’s board of directors, suggested she apply for a Habitat home, but she didn’t do so until she got pregnant with her daughter a year later.
“I did the process for about a year getting the paperwork together,” she said while holding Victoria in her arms. “When I found out I got it I was just crying and so excited from that point forward. I know this will change our lives.”
Cajuste said Habitat volunteers build homes to give families and children the opportunity to grow, which also helps to strengthen communities.
“Habitat provides stability for families searching for a way to help themselves and their neighbors,” she said. “We build so children can have a safe home where they can learn and grow and fulfill their potential. We build to open doors for new opportunities and a promise of a new start and a new life.”
Madelyn Thorne, executive director of Schenectady Habitat, said she is optimistic that the group could one day reach 100 homes thanks to donations and thousands of volunteers.
Thorne said Hodge’s 1,500-square-foot house would be completed by October or November. A second two-story home is also being built by Habitat at the same time next door.
“The more money we get in and donations we receive that’s house number 51, 52, 53, 54,” she said. “Let’s break 100. Why not? We can do it in Schenectady.”
Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy said that over the last four years the city has demolished six houses on Carrie Street with four new houses planned.
The Capital Region Land Bank purchased the property at 1685 Carrie St., along with 1671, 1693 and 1702 Carrie St.
Habitat also built new homes at 1560, 1564 and 1568 Carrie St. Three two-family houses were demolished to make way for Habitat to build two single-family houses there.
One house was sold to a single mother and the other will be sold to a father with four teenagers, Thorne said.
“It would be cool if we had half a dozen more houses built on Carrie Street,” Thorne said.
Richard Ruzzo, chairman of the Land Bank, pointed to the issue of “zombie properties,” which are stuck in the foreclosure process and often neglected.
The state Assembly passed the New York State Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act last month, which would require lenders to take quicker action to identify, secure and maintain abandoned houses.
The bill would also create a statewide registry of zombie properties and establish a fund for municipalities to use money collected by the state Attorney General’s Office to enforce the legislation.
“That will stop these financial institutions from leaving properties that are in a state of disrepair,” Ruzzo said of the bill, which has yet to pass in the state Senate. “When people foreclose and leave the community the bank doesn’t do anything about it.”
Hodge said she is looking to open a nonprofit to help people with HIV and AIDS in the future.
“Moving forward I’m just so excited,” she said. “I’m truly blessed.”
Reach Gazette reporter Haley Viccaro at 395-3114, [email protected] or @HRViccaro on Twitter.