New Walls, New Roofs, New Beginnings: Habitat Dedicates Four Houses In West Chatham

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Housing and homelessness

Habitat's Bob Ryley wished for the families that “you find the peace, the love and the joy that we all wish for you.”  ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

WEST CHATHAM — Almost exactly one year after community leaders, volunteers and prospective homeowners gathered to raise the first walls on new Habitat for Humanity houses in West Chatham, they gathered again last Thursday to dedicate the completed homes.

Jonathan Liska and his daughter Victoria will soon be moving in to one of the houses, located behind the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen's Alliance building and Chatham Stoneware. Liska grew up in Chatham.

“I feel very fortunate to stay here,” he said. Liska and the three other soon-to-be homeowners helped build their houses, working alongside volunteers from Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod. Closings for the houses will be held by the end of the month, after which time the four families will begin paying affordable mortgages.

The houses, two with two bedrooms and two with three, were built on land sold to the Chatham Housing Authority at below market price by David and Gail Oppenheim, with taxpayers contributing $529,000 from the affordable housing trust fund and from two Community Preservation Act grants.

Habitat Director of Construction Bob Ryley applauded the new homeowners, volunteers, architects and engineers, and contractors who donated materials and volunteered.

“It is a collective 'we' that have built these homes,” he said. For the families who will soon move into the houses, Ryley expressed his hope that “you find the peace, the love and the joy that we all wish for you.”

Corrina Dyal, who will own another of the houses, said she and her two children are grateful for “all the love and support on this journey.” The construction work was extremely challenging at times, she said, but they learned a lot during the process. One of her new neighbors, Jean Claude Butter, agreed. Habitat volunteers were always glad to explain the construction process.

“That's what Habitat does,” he said. “You learn a lot from them.”

The Habitat families each received gift bags, hand-decorated bookshelves, quilts and Bibles for their new homes.

Selectmen Chairman Cory Metters said the small subdivision is a fine example of a “local initiative project” built under Chapter 40B, which allowed the affordable housing project to be approved under a streamlined review process. From the pleasing lines of the houses and the hydrangea-dotted landscaping to the views of Bearse's Pond, the neighborhood is very attractive, he noted.

“It's beautifully done,” Metters said.

Chatham Housing Authority Chairman Alan Mowry praised Habitat as “a very unique organization that really makes things happen in a very professional way.” With this development, Habitat has now built 11 houses in Chatham, though the task gets more daunting every year because of the scarcity of land and the increasing cost of materials.

“Every year, the miracle stays alive, but the challenge is greater than the year before,” Mowry said. Habitat is already raising funds for its next housing project in Brewster.

Construction financing for the homes came from the Cape Cod Five Cents Savings Bank, whose Wellfleet branch manager, Wil Rhymer, is Habitat's board president. Mortgage financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture came through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston.

Habitat received applications from 19 qualified families for the four homes, and three of the four houses were given to people with local ties, meaning that they either live here, work here or have children in the local schools.

Soon-to-be-homeowner Melissa Chase pledged to make Habitat and its volunteers proud. She thanked everyone who helped bring her dreams of homeowership to reality, including her daughter, Mackenzie, “for never giving up on her mom.”

For his part, Jean Claude Butter said he was astounded by the Habitat volunteers who showed up at the job site on time week after week, even in extreme heat, bitter cold or drifting snow.

“They are the finest people we have ever met,” he said.