Housing group starts work


November 08, 1992|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Staff Writer

Chancy Wilkens built his little yellow clapboard home just outside Annapolis near the South River in 1952. Back then, repairs came easily to the contractor.

But now he's 90, and the old one-story house near the end of Kitty Duvall Drive is slowly falling apart. The roof sags, and heat escapes through the cracked, uninsulated walls.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Wilkens tried to crawl around in the basement to fix old water pipes, and the metal disintegrated in his hands.

Soon, Mr. Wilkens and his wife, Reatha, 82, will move from the crumbling old place to a house being built on their front lawn.

About 50 members of Arundel Habitat for Humanity began work on the new house in yesterday morning's cold, dreary weather. They offered prayers and words of encouragement before handing the shovels to Mr. and Mrs. Wilkens so they could remove the first dirt from what will be their new foundation.

"People have land, but they don't have the money to build it up or make improvements," said retired Army Col. William DeShields, of Arundel Habitat for Humanity. "This is a classic example."

The organization, affiliated with the national group that works to build and refurbish homes throughout the country, chose the Wilkens' home because several county grants recently came through.

Jeff Gallaher, president of Arundel Habitat for Humanity, said Mr. Wilkens and his wife applied for help four years ago. The one-story, two-bedroom home that will be built in their front yard could be completed in three weeks.

"I feel better now than I have been feeling," said Mr. Wilkens. He had hoped to buy a new house when the repairs got to be too much, but, "They wanted too much money."

Christopher Smith, who works in the community development division of the Anne Arundel County Office of Planning and Zoning, said his office checked out the couple's house, but could not help because the cost of repairs exceeded 50 percent of the home's assessed value.

"Bringing it all the way up to code would have cost a lot of money," Mr. Smith said.

The couple received $15,000 from the county's Property Rehab Program and $5,800 from the Handicap Modification Program. The county also is contributing money for plumbing.

Mrs. Wilkens said she and her husband and five children moved to Annapolis from Memphis, Tenn. She worked cleaning homes, and he worked as a contractor and builder. Both are now retired.

As teams of volunteers worked, Mr. Wilkens sat on his front porch, clutching his cane while watching the activity.

He said he wasn't sure what he would do first in his new home. "I'll have to wait and see," he said.

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