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Habitat hurdles multiply

August 31, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - Habitat for Humanity of Washington County has speeded up its timetable for completion of two attached houses in Boonsboro even though fund-raising efforts have fallen short and a lawsuit is pending against the group.

Habitat also faces a problem its executive director said it never faced before - vandalism at a property.

Sherry Brown Cooper, Habitat's executive director in Washington County, said Monday that the group would like to complete construction of both sides of the duplex off St. Paul Street in mid-November. Cooper said Habitat will try to finish the two houses within three months, faster than the usual construction time of six months for one house.

Cooper said the timetable was moved up because the families who are to own the homes need a place to live. One family is living temporarily with family and the other is facing a substantial rent increase it cannot afford.

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"We really need to rally the forces of volunteerism around to make this work," Cooper said.

Kelly Collins, Habitat's volunteer coordinator, said that at least eight unskilled volunteers, two skilled volunteers and one person to distribute water and first-aid supplies will be needed daily from Sept. 20, when construction is to resume, until Oct. 2. They'll be needed at the site from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

From Oct. 2 through Nov. 17, Habitat will need the unskilled volunteers only on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Collins said people also are needed to prepare lunches for the volunteers.

The work is going on despite substantial funding shortfalls for the projects, Cooper said. One of the houses, being sponsored by a group of financial institutions dubbed Banking On Our Community, is more the $10,000 short of the $55,000 it expected to raise. The second, the Interfaith Coalition of Washington County's House That Faith Built, is more than $40,000 short of its $55,000 goal.

Cooper said the money raised is not enough to pay for building materials that have been ordered.

Meanwhile, Habitat is awaiting a decision out of Washington County Circuit Court on a motion it filed to dismiss a lawsuit trying to prevent the construction.

Karen Shifler, who lives near the duplex, on Lakin Avenue, alleges in the lawsuit that she did not have a chance to appeal the town Planning Commission's approval of plans for the house.

Previously, Habitat faced another major obstacle - an emergency ordinance passed by the Boonsboro Town Council in June. The ordinance prohibited new homes from fronting alleys and became effective 10 days after the vote.

Habitat responded by rallying about 40 volunteers on short notice and finished enough of the building to earn legal protection against the new regulations before they went into effect.

Habitat members said that accomplishment demonstrates that the project's toughest obstacle is in the past.

"This seems like an overwhelming amount of work, but we already have the hardship taken care of," said Timothy Cebulski, part-time construction manager for the county Habitat chapter. "Desire is 90 percent of this project."

Still, there are new problems at the property, Cooper said. Habitat officials were informed Friday of several acts of vandalism there, Cooper said.

Derogatory words were spray-painted on three bricks on one of the foundations and inside a portable bathroom unit nearby. And the screens near the top of the unit were broken out.

"This is especially disheartening because we've built in areas where I've worried before, areas where vandalism was known to happen, and it's never happened," Cooper said.

Anyone wishing to contact Habitat For Humanity of Washington County about donation of funds or services may call 301-791-9009 or e-mail Kelly Collins at volunteer.hfhwc@att.net.

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