Making room for a full house

Habitat for Humanity lays a foundation for helping others by building its first home in Howard.

July 11, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

"This is my bed," said Cadence Crone, 10, her arms spread wide before her, in the bare, unfinished bedroom of her dreams.

One of five girls who now share one bedroom in a family of 11, Cadence can hardly wait for her family's new split-level Habitat for Humanity house - Howard County's first - to be completed.

Standing on the concrete floor of the new bedroom she will share with two sisters, Kayla, 8, and Kira, 6, she has already decided where on the window ledge her books will go and which part of the closet will be hers. The 2,000-square-foot house will also have two bathrooms - another improvement over the one bathroom the family now shares in Elkridge.

The pale yellow house on Harriet Tubman Lane near Atholton High School in Columbia is scheduled to be finished this fall, and after three years of waiting, the Crones can almost feel the extra room.

But Bob Warner, chairman of the county's Habitat chapter, worries about finding more building lots in a county where the average home price is about $340,000.

"Land is a problem. For what we're trying to do, if you can find lots, they are really expensive," Warner said, noting that he looked at two lots for sale recently that cost $100,000 each.

"We don't have [$100,000] in the bank, or a line of credit. We don't really have any assets to speak of," Warner said. The volunteer group got the lot on Harriet Tubman Lane by a convergence of good fortunes, when a previous contract fell through just after Habitat got a $52,000 grant from the Maryland Affordable Housing Trust in 2001. Regulatory problems held up construction of the house for several years while the Crones waited.

Habitat is a private, nonprofit international Christian housing ministry based in Americus, Ga., that claims to have built more than 150,000 houses for 750,000 low-income people worldwide and has 18 chapters throughout Maryland.

The average construction cost of a Habitat home, built with donated or discounted materials and labor, is about $46,600 in the United States, according to the group's Web site. The Crones' house will cost about double that, Warner said.

Each family chosen to receive a house must help build it, make a down payment and pay the monthly no-interest mortgage, which will be held by Habitat.

Howard's Habitat chapter is negotiating with the Columbia Housing Corporation, another nonprofit group, for a second lot in Dorsey, along the U.S. 1 corridor near Route 176. But Warner said his group would need help to continue because of the skyrocketing value of land in the county.

"If we could find other willing sellers, that would be wonderful," Warner said.

The Crones exemplify the working families that have a tough time living in expensive Howard County. Farin and Debbie Crone moved to the county 15 years ago, and have nine children ages 3 to 16. Debbie home-schools all the children, who have had to learn to get along in a three-bedroom rental duplex.

Farin works three jobs, Debbie said, but housing inflation has left them unable to afford more space.

"We believe children are a blessing from God. We just really believed we'd know when our family was complete," Debbie, a former missionary originally from New Zealand, said about their large family.

Everyone is very excited about the new home, she said. The kids will be housed by age in four bedrooms on the ground floor. That means the two older boys, 14 and 16, and the two younger ones, 3 and 5, will have their own rooms, while the two older girls, 11 and 13, and the three younger girls, 6, 8, and 10, will have their own rooms, too. On Thursday, the children ran through the rough-framed rooms, claiming their turf.

"I'm on a bunk bed," Kira said. Nodding at her future bedroom's single window, she elaborated.

"No one's bed can be by the window because it wouldn't be fair," she said. The master bedroom and bath will be on the upper floor, as will a large combination kitchen and dining area, a living room and closets.

Warner told Debbie Crone during a recent visit to the house that a family who had ordered beige carpeting for a new home but then decided to change flooring had donated it and the padding for the Crones' home. The siding was bought at a discount, and Habitat brought in professional plumbers, carpenters and electricians to help with construction.

Volunteers have been installing the siding, and they will help with the drywall, paint and finishing touches. New kitchen appliances, a washer, a dryer and a heat pump come with the house.

"I like it. It's great," Debbie Crone said, taking a last glance at the house as her children piled into the family's 15- passenger van for the trip home.

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