Morris Habitat for Humanity Kicks Off Week-Long “Jersey Road Trip” at the Summit Interfaith and Community Build Site
Tuesday, May 3, 2011 • 3:11pm
SUMMIT, NJ - Morris Habitat for Humanity kicked off a week long “Jersey Road Trip” on Tuesday morning at the 39 Morris Avenue Summit Interfaith and Community Build Site.
The event is a Habitat for Humanity Cars for Homes Road Trip through which representatives from Habitat for Humanity International will visit four Habitat affiliates worksites in Bergen, Essex, Morris, and Passaic Counties. The trip will focus on how the Cars for Homes program helps “recycle vehicles into homes.” It comes during the best time to make a car donation to this program since donations will be matched dollar-for-dollar for the resale value of a donated vehicle.
In the coming days, the Road Trip volunteers will visit Habitat for Humanity Newark where a two family house needs framing, landscaping and electrical work; Habitat for Humanity of Bergen County for minor work and landscaping in four condo units; and Paterson Habitat for Humanity to work on a Pilot Habitat home.
The trip will end on Saturday, May 7th with a visit to the Morris Habitat ReStore, a building and furnishings discount supply outlet. ReStore funds go towards building projects and have funded the equivalent of four homes. This resource has also kept 1000 tons of materials out of the wastelands.
The kick-off event began with a Welcome and introductions from the Executive Director of Morris Habitat, Blair Schleicher Bravo. Ms. Bravo discussed the current $100K challenge grant to match the donations of cars and encouraged everyone to “Wear [their Cars for Homes] shirts for two more months.”
Ms. Bravo went on to discuss the importance of affordable housing, citing a Star Ledger report which indicated that individuals throughout New Jersey are “hard-pressed” to find affordable rentals. Because New Jersey is the fifth most expensive state for renting in the country, average individuals must earn at least $50K annually to be able to afford a two bedroom apartment. Ms. Bravo explained that given these conditions, Morris Habitat for Humanity is “Trying to provide a little hope,” to give people “a piece of the American dream.”
Everyone gathered at the site took turns to introduce themselves and explain why they had attended the event. Among those in attendance were the volunteers from Habitat for Humanity International, the Morris Habitat team, volunteers from the area, the President of the Summit City Council, and one woman who is a new homeowner and will be moving into the construction when it is completed.
Council President, Mr. Dave Bomgaars, spoke briefly about Summit’s continued commitment to affordable housing, as well as the Council’s encouragement for the project at the 39 Morris Avenue site. He also welcomed the volunteers from out of town, stating, “If you’re not from Jersey, get to know the exits on the Parkway,” and, “Don’t pay attention to the Jersey Shore; we’re not anything like that.”
Mr. Jim Choma, the Director of Development for Morris Habitat, was introduced and shared a “reflection of yesteryear” about the “chicken and the pig,” in which a chicken suggests to a pig that they help the congregants of a church by providing them with a brunch of “eggs and bacon.” The pig rejects this idea because he is not interested in making a life-long commitment to helping the people. Mr. Choma shared the anecdote as an analogy for the Habitat volunteers who he saluted, stating, “I see people who make life commitments not just mere contributions.”
The crew was, then, reminded of safety tips, told to wear helmets, be careful on ladders and to “Get to work.” And work they did.
The building will house six condo units, consisting of three two-bedroom units on the top floor, and three two-bedroom units on the first floor. The three first floor units will be handicapped accessible. All units will have a porch.
The project is being built in partnership with the City of Summit, the Housing Authority and the Interfaith Community comprised of several of the area’s churches and temples. These interfaith places of worship have come together in agreement to raise $300K of the $865K set as the goal needed for project completion, which is anticipated for the end of the year.
The way these groups have come together is a reflection of the beliefs held by Mr. Millard Fuller, Founder of Habitat for Humanity International, that when people come together to build something beautiful and do something good for humanity they put aside all of their differences. He called this the “theology of the hammer.”
This sense of unity is also reflected in the donations received from surrounding businesses. The Summit Millwork and Supply Company among others, for instance, has donated materials to this project and has committed to donating materials to ReStore. Various professionals in the region provided pro-bono services. Seth A. Leeb, an architect; Alfred Stewart of Stewart Surveying and Engineering; and Richard F. Smith, a Professional Land Surveyor all donated time and services to the project. Drinker Biddle and Reath LLC, in particular, was helpful to the project in providing legal services and was committed to seeing it through.
Of course, all of the volunteers have been invaluable. Work is done five or six days a week, generally on Tuesday through Saturday, with some groups working on Sundays because of religious observation on Saturdays. Groups generally consist of twenty people and a supervisor. Four part-time supervisors rotate between sites throughout the week.
Morris Habitat also enters into partnerships with other groups for construction projects. Some of the non-profit organizations will support a project, and many companies will sponsor a home or part of a home.
Mr. Choma described the work Habitat does as charity that does not feel like charity to the recipients. He explained that applicants must pay a $1000 application fee. They must also show themselves to be financially stable and have a credit score of 600. If approved, homeowners participate in financing and budget classes. They also put down a payment of “sweat equity” by helping to build their own homes. Finally, they pay a mortgage. The homeowner who was working hard during the morning at the Morris Avenue site will have a mortgage of about $500 including taxes and insurance fees. In comparison to her $1300 rent, this seems like a fantastic opportunity. Some of the Morris Habitat members spoke highly of the woman’s dedication and noted that she has committed to continuing to work on the project even after her own home has been completed.