Ice melting; power still out in Northeast

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

In the summer of 1996, the city of Kent's proposal to move and renovate three houses to sell to low and moderate income families generated weeks of controversy from neighbors and council members. But now that renovation efforts have been completed in two of the houses and work is under way in the third, even the critics are smiling. On Jan. 18, Habitat for Humanity will dedicate the house at 510 Vine Street, where renovation efforts have been ongoing for about a year. They are now concentrating on renovations at 220 East Summit Street. Dave Palmstrom, executive director of Habitat, said Edna Mae Boggs and her son, Aaron, who plan to move into the Vine Street house, are excited about moving from rental housing to their new home. "It's a dream come true for Edna Mae," he said. The houses were moved in September 1996 from Summit Street and Tonkin Court to the vacant lot at the corner of Summit and Vine streets to make way for an expanded parking lot at city hall. The Portage Area Development Corporation arranged to move the houses to its property and built a new foundation and basement for each house. PADCorp handled the renovation and sale of one house on Summit Street, where a family recently moved in. The others were renovated by Habitat. But the move did not go without controversy. A petition was signed by 104 neighborhood residents who asked the city to keep the lot as open space or a park. Councilman Ed Pease said residents were afraid the homes would not be renovated properly or turned into rental housing, and also said the neighborhood needed a park. "I had some similar concerns, but as I've passed by there, I've been very pleased," he said. "They've fit the houses into the neighborhood and made it look as if they've always been part of the neighborhood." He said he is also pleased that Habitat is involved with the renovations. "I think they do an excellent job," he said. "It's not a hand out, it's a helping hand. Ultimately, it's going to be their home." Both houses, which are estimated at 80 to 90 years old, needed extensive renovations, said Harvey White, project coordinator for both renovations. The deck of the front porch of the Vine Street house was missing by the time it ended up across the street, and the Summit Street house was missing both parts of the front porch when it was moved. The most notable renovations in the Vine Street home are in the kitchen area, where a door was moved over to one side so residents wouldn't have a door breaking up their cupboard space. That door was also on the side of the house away from the driveway, so workers installed a second back door adjacent to the driveway near the basement steps. Residents wanted an additional restroom, so contractors converted the old, cramped full bath off the kitchen into a half-bath and built an upstairs addition which included a roomier full bath and additional closet space. The house has new flooring, drywall, paint, vinyl siding and a new furnace, hot water heater, electric and plumbing. But workers made every effort to preserve the house whenever possible. Residents of Habitat homes pay the fair market value of the materials that went into the renovation, including those that are donated, and pay no interest on a 20 to 30 year mortgage, Palmstrom said. Since Habitat families are low-income, the house payments are limited to less than 30 percent of a resident's monthly income. The estimated cost of materials invested in the Vine Street house is under $30,000, Palmstrom said. House payments are used to help Habitat fund its next project. There are provisions, however, to ensure residents don't buy the houses and turn around and sell them for a profit. Residents are not entitled to the equity in their homes until they have paid 2/3 of the mortgage. "As soon as we put these houses on the market, they're worth at least twice what we sell them for," Palmstrom said, adding that the Vine Street house is worth about $90,000 now that it has been renovated. They are also required to put in 500 hours of "sweat equity," working on their own house and other Habitat projects. The Summit Street house will have five bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a new roof, porches, and siding. The ornate front door was a gift from a woman who was tearing her house down, White said. Habitat is still looking for a family with at least four children to occupy the huge home, which was once occupied by several students, White said. City rules state the residents moving in must already be living in Kent. Both city and Habitat's rules require all residents to be related to the homeowners. Workers have torn out many walls and are still working to run electrical lines and plumbing fixtures, in addition to installing new drywall and painting, White said. "They're not fancy," he said. "They're just decent homes for people who need them."

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