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Prospect of 'Habitat' homes concerns neighbors : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Prospect of 'Habitat' homes concerns neighbors
Non-profit agency has yet to file plans for lots on Montgomery's Keck Ave.

by John Etheredge


Some Montgomery residents are concerned the Fox Valley Habitat for Humanity (FVHFH) program may construct homes in their neighborhood.

Representatives of the program attempted to alleviate the residents' concerns during a village board committee meeting last week.

Village officials, meanwhile, said they have yet to receive a development proposal for the project.

John Rost, a resident of the 1100 block of South Broadway Avenue, questioned if the village will waive its building code requirements for a FVHFH project.

Rost said, "I find it troubling that current, long-time residents have no say in plans to build low income housing in their community. I spent the last 16 years buying, building, maintaining my home and using my sweat equity and my money with no help from anyone. (Now) only to see it being destroyed so others can feel all warm and fuzzy about themselves."

Rost told the board, "There isn't one of you that would want a Habitat for Humanity home next to your nice home because I'm sure you all live in decent places."

Dean Schmidt said he resides on Keck Avenue, just east of South Broadway Avenue in between two parcels owned by FVHFH. He told the board he is concerned that if Habitat built homes on the lots adjoining his they would lower his property values.

Schmidt noted his home was vacant for over a year and in a deteriorating condition before he bought it and fixed it up.

"I think you are thwarting me from making any kind of profit whatsoever on that home," he said.

Instead of allowing FVHFH to construct new homes on the vacant parcels, he suggested the program purchase existing homes elsewhere in the community and fix them up.

Referring to FVHFH, Schmidt said, "They would be doing the community a big favor by doing that and helping people instead of building new homes and pressing people into a crowded situation (on Keck Avenue)."

He added, "Habitat should just donate the land to Montgomery and let it go. I'll even volunteer to cut the grass for you."

Jeff Barrett, executive director of the FVHFH, confirmed the vacant land along Keck Avenue was donated to the program last year.

"We have not made any plans on it yet," he said, adding, "(But) we have discussed a little bit with the village on what their (building) requirements are."

Barrett said any FVHFH plans to develop the property would fully conform to the village's building requirements.

"If curbs, gutters and sidewalks are required, we will do that. We will do whatever we are asked to do to comply with the (building) codes," he said.

Barrett emphasized that FVHFH is in no way connected to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and its housing programs.

"We have nothing to do with HUD and HUD has nothing to do with us," he said, adding, "We are an independent, non-profit. A 501c3 non-profit that builds and rehabs homes and take over foreclosed properties."

Barrett said FVHFH serves working families with incomes between $22,000 and $45,000 per year.

He said families selected to participate in the program must first put in hundreds of hours of sweat equity building homes in the program while also successfully completing home construction, financing and maintenance classes.

"We do build the houses with a lot of volunteers and residents get a good deal, but they don't get them for free," he said.

Barrett emphasized that FVHFH does not "give away homes to homeless people. We don't. We never have and never will. Our homes are built for working families making between 30 and 60 percent of the median income of our area which is about $73,500."

Barrett added that program participants must apply and obtain a mortgage for their homes through FVHFH.

He said the program is highly selective in reviewing all home applicants.

"Just for this year, since January, we've had 23 applications and of those only four are even under consideration," Barrett said.

The mortgages include built-in covenants that place the homeowners in default if they engage in criminal activity, try to re-sell the home or if they fail a follow-up home inspection.

Of the 50 homes built by FVHFH, Barrett said only one home has gone into foreclosure.

"They are paying for the mortgage and the house and it's a good deal-one you and I would like to have. They get a zero percent interest mortgage. We are the bank, the mortgage holder. If they are not responsible we can foreclose on them and we have. We have had only one foreclosure but we will foreclose if we have to."

Barrett noted that if FVHFH proceeds with building homes on Keck Street, it will be the second in the village. He recalled that several years ago the program built a 10 home subdivision at Sherman Avenue and Pearl Street.

"You can go by those houses today and they are as nice looking today as they were the day we built them-some are even better looking," he said.

Addressing the neighbors, Barrett said, "Our residents take pride in their homes-just like you do. I get that. I really do. You don't want someone moving into your area who doesn't take care of their home."

Barrett noted that the program's office are located in the old village hall at 1300 South Broadway Avenue. He invited residents to visit him at his office.

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