Habitat for Humanity thinking Riverhead for next project

TIM GANNON PHOTO | This boarded home on Wilson Avenue in the Millbrook Gables neighborhood was acquired by Suffolk County through tax defaults.

Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit organization that uses donated materials and hundreds of volunteers to build new houses for families across the country, may soon be working in Riverhead.

The organization’s Suffolk County chapter is eyeing a potential project in the Millbrook Gables neighborhood off West Main Street, the same neighborhood where Habitat for Humanity built its first house on Long Island in 1988. That house was destroyed in a fire a little more than a year later, though no lives were lost.

Suffolk County owns a boarded up home on Wilson Avenue that is must be used for affordable housing under a county project called 72-H, according to town community development director Chris Kempner.
The lot was acquired by the county through tax default and is included in a county program that allows towns and other municipalities to use such properties on the condition they be used for affordable housing.

The town is required to show the county in advance what organization it plans to work with in order to build the affordable housing. In this case, the town sent out a request for proposals that netted responses from two companies. But the proposals submitted were too expensive, Ms. Kempner said, both coming in at over $143,000.

Because of this, she said, the county suggested Habitat for Humanity, whose services wouldn’t cost the town a thing.
Ms. Kempner said Don Walker, executive director of Habitat Suffolk, based in Middle Island, inspected the Wilson Avenue parcel and said he’d be happy to work with the town.

Town Board members also reacted positively to the proposal at Thursday’s public work session in Riverhead Town Hall, where Supervisor Sean Walter even issued a public challenge to candidates in this fall’s local elections to help work on the house.
“We’re happy they are willing to work here, and the Town Board is really excited, too,” Ms. Kempner said.

Once the proposal is formally approved, Habitat for Humanity would eventually hold a lottery to determine who would get a chance to buy the refurbished home.

“The selection is based on income, need and ability to pay,” Ms. Kempner said. Habitat can give preference to people who live or work in the town, she added.

The house would have to be owner-occupied and restrictions would be put in place to prevent it from being resold for a quick profit.

Once accepted into the Habitat for Humanity program, applicants must provide some “sweat equity” by not only helping with construction of their own house, but also working on Saturdays for approximately a year on other Suffolk Habitat houses, according to the group’s website.

The partnership also requires that candidates complete certain educational classes and perform community service.

Habitat applicants provide sweat equity in place of a down payment on their houses and receive interest-free 20- to 30-year mortgages. Their annual income must fall within 40 to 60 percent of the Nassau/Suffolk median, or between $43,975 and $61,040 for a family of four.

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