A fire caused a four-month delay, but the Crone family will finally move into a Habitat for Humanity residence

From House To New Home

April 27, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

It may be four months late, but the 11 members of the Crone family are finally homeowners.

An accidental fire in December badly damaged their new Habitat for Humanity house on Harriet Tubman Lane in Columbia days before they were due to take possession.

Yesterday, a day after settlement, the Crones were all smiles as some family members painted the interior of their two-story, five bedroom, two-bath home. They hope to move in this weekend.

Cadence Crone, 10, carefully applied bright blue painting tape to protect the trim at the bottom of the white walls as her mother prepared to apply color to the living room. Grey Crone, 17, worked downstairs on the bedroom he and his 16-year-old brother will share.

"It seems so different," Cadence said as she worked, recalling that she has been living with plans for the Habitat house since age 6. "I remember the groundbreaking. That seems so long ago."

The Crones have been renting a three-bedroom, one-bath house in Elkridge. Mother Debbie homeschools the children, ages 4 to 17, while her husband, Farin, works three jobs.

The accidental kitchen fire and the resulting water and smoke destroyed the wallboard and carpet in all but two lower-level rooms and one bathroom, forcing the rooms to be stripped back to the studs and wiping out hundreds of hours of volunteer labor.

But that is history.

Even a mundane task of painting the white walls with easier-cleaning glossy colors and applying wallpaper borders was a dramatic event yesterday for Debbie Crone.

"This is the first time I've ever had to decorate - been free to decorate," she said. "It's a really strange feeling. If we want to plant a vegetable garden, we can do it."

But she said that until the family moves furniture in and sleeps at the new house, it still seems like just another day "working on the Habitat House" like any other volunteer.

In the 2,000-square-foot house, three bedrooms will have two children and one bedroom will hold three. In their rented home, all five girls share one bedroom.

The second bathroom qualifies as a luxury for the Crones, especially for Debbie.

"I know it's funny to be excited about a toilet," she said, looking at the new home's first-floor facilities, but the single bathroom in their rental home is on the second floor, two levels above the master bedroom.

To qualify for the Habitat program, the Crones had to help build their home, investing sweat equity on weekends and evenings.

Habitat will hold the 30-year, interest-free mortgage, and the monthly payment will be a few dollars a month less than their current $950-a-month rent, Debbie Crone said.

If the family decides to sell, Habitat is to get the right of first refusal.

Habitat, based in Americus, Ga., claims to have built more than 150,000 houses for 750,000 low-income people worldwide - including 700 in Maryland - with the help of more than 80,000 volunteers.

The group's goal is to build 300 more homes by 2008, but if the pace in Howard is any measure, it will take longer.

In a way, the Crones' long-awaited triumph might be more symbolic of Howard County's housing woes.

The average price of a home in the county is more than $380,000, pricing most middle-income families out of the market.

The Habitat group has not been able to obtain a lot for its second house.

"At the moment, we don't have a lot," said Damola Akintonde, a spokesman for the group. "We have a couple prospects the site selection team is taking a look at. The one thing we're facing is the soaring prices in Howard County. Basically, what we're doing is focusing our efforts on the U.S. 1 corridor, where land is not as expensive as in other areas.

"It forces us to be creative," Akintonde said.

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