A first house, on home turf

Through Habitat, woman to live near roots on Clay St.

August 07, 2008|By Karen Shih | Karen Shih,Sun Reporter

Lorraine Williams has never owned a house in her 63 years.

Born in Annapolis, she moved around for years as her family followed her Navy father, settling first in Virginia and then returning to Annapolis, but never living in a home she could call her own.

On Saturday, Arundel Habitat for Humanity will present Williams with her first house - and Habitat's 100th home - on Clay Street in Annapolis.

"I feel wonderful. ... My roots come from Clay Street," she said, adding that her grandmother was called "the mayor of Clay Street."

Williams was an ideal person for the house because of her attitude toward work and her personality, and because her family lived on that street for many years, said Anne Rouse, Deputy Director of Arundel Habitat.

"She's a person that can really build bridges in the community," Rouse said. The organization plans to build 14 more homes in that area, and they hope Williams can help those families adjust.

Arundel Habitat, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, required Williams to go through a credit check. Habitat had to verify that her housing was substandard or overcrowded. Then, she started her "sweat equity" period, during which a prospective homeowner must put in between 200 to 400 hours working first in Habitat's office, and, when she was offered a house, on her home.

Applicants must have a job and make enough to meet mortgage payments, but they cannot make more than 50 percent of the median area income. For Arundel Habitat, most applicants make between 30 to 50 percent of the median, or $19,000 to $38,000. Applicants agree to a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, but the organization, which holds the mortgages, will set the payments so that the family does not have to pay more than 30 percent of its household income. Habitat subsidizes the rest.

"A lot of people are under the impression that Habitat gives poor people houses," Rouse said, "but that's not what goes on at all.

"These are folks who have equity in their homes because they've done the work," she said.

Williams was first offered a house in 2005 in the Brooklyn area of Baltimore City in 2005, where Arundel Habitat also builds. But she was diagnosed with breast cancer around that time, and her doctor advised her not to take the house because of air pollution in that area.

Though it was disappointing that she had to wait, she said she knew that "if you wait on it, your blessings will come to you."

Early this year, Habitat was able to offer Williams, now cancer-free, a house on Clay Street. Since then, she has been working on the house regularly with volunteers who come each Wednesday and Saturday.

"It was fantastic. You learn so much," she said. "It was so many people, we were just like a family."

Scott Brauner, a volunteer with Habitat for about two years, is a member of Calvary Methodist Church, one of several churches in a coalition to build the house. They regularly sent volunteers to the site during the six months it took to build the house.

"I'm out there virtually every weekend," he said. Williams "is an absolutely delightful lady. To see her out there working on what's going to be her house is really a lot of fun and very fulfilling." Asha Henson and Kaitlynn Robinson, both 19 and students at Spelman College, came from Upper Marlboro to work on their first house for Habitat.

"I always wanted to help out," Henson said. Annapolis had the closest house they could help with, she said. They hope to start a chapter at their university, they said.

Rouse said volunteers - about 1,000 of them - and donations of discounted or free construction materials help keep the homes affordable.

Though it took them more than 20 years to build 100 houses, she anticipates building the next 100 much more quickly. They build about 12 houses a year, but they hope to reach their goal of 20 per year.

"Habitat has been wonderful," Williams said. "I am so grateful. Words cannot express my feelings for them."


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