County’s first Habitat for Humanity home now a real mess; town taking action

TIM GANNON PHOTO | Suffolk County's first Habitat for Humanity house at 55 Segal Avenue burned down a year after it was built in 1988. Here it is today, vacant.

Back in 1988, 55 Sigal Avenue in Riverhead was the site of the first-ever Habitat for Humanity house in Suffolk County.

The work of the volunteers who built the house garnered front page headlines. Not only when it was being built — and again when it was completed — but also a year later, when it burnt to the ground. (Riverhead Firefighters and police got everyone out of the home in time, including a toddler who was rescued by firefighter Frank Darrow, according to News-Review reports at the time.)

Fast forward to today, and 55 Segal Avenue is now an abandoned home with broken windows and garbage strewn across the property. A neighbor said no one has lived there for the past six months, and he doesn’t know where the family that had lived there went. He assumed they lost the property.

Now, the Riverhead Town Board on Tuesday is expected to pass resolutions requiring the owner of the property to secure the building and clean up the yard. If that doesn’t happen, the town will do it, and charge the cost to the property owner’s tax bill.

“This was the very first Habitat house in the Town of Riverhead,” Councilman Jim Wooten told board members at Thursday’s work session. “Now it’s just abandoned and people are jumping in and out of it. We have to secure the premises,’ he said.

The non-profit Habitat for Humanity is known nationally for gathering hundreds of volunteers to build a re-build a house for a person or people in need, and then sell it to that person at a low price and a low interest rate. The buyer of the house is then required to work on other Habitat homes.

Classie Kelly, a mother of five who worked as a school custodian at the time 1988, was the recipient of the Sigal Avenue home. While county records show that Deutsche Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings against Classie Kelly in 2008, Riverhead Town records still show Ms. Kelly as the owner of the property.

She could not be located for comment.

Another Habitat home was built on another lot on Segal Avenue in Riverhead three years later, in 1992, and Habitat is currently working with Suffolk County to possibly build a new Habitat house where a boarded up one now sits on Wilson Avenue, officials said.

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See the March 8 Riverhead News-Review newspaper for more details.

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