Community Helps Cape Codder Build A House

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Housing and homelessness

“Want your shed over there?” might be the question Habitat lead builder Mike Sullivan was asking homeowner-to-be Jessica Shiever last week at the Quanset Road site.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS — Jessica Shiever’s heart may have been pounding with joy when she walked up the driveway last week, but soon she was pounding nails to help make her Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod home a reality.

The Eastham resident was chosen in a lottery for the new house going up on Quanset Road on a lot purchased by the town’s affordable housing trust.

Last week, Shiever met on-site with Mike Sullivan, Habitat’s lead builder and site supervisor, for a tour of the recently built foundation. He told her of the choices she can make regarding the color of her front door, where to put her shed and of how she’ll meet the project’s sweat equity work requirement of 250 hours. But he let her discover for herself that he had hand-carved a sign for the driveway (“Willow Way”) in honor of her young daughter.

“I love the location,” Sullivan said last week. “There’s a whole lot that’s usable, flat. There’s a southern exposure for solar, and there are nice neighbors.” (In fact, one has already stopped by to offer his tractor to help move materials.)

A virtual wall-raising ceremony is set for Nov. 10 at 4 p.m., and Sullivan, who will coordinate all volunteer labor, expects the house will be ready for occupancy by the spring.

Shiever, who works as a server at Montano’s restaurant in Truro, admitted she’s lacking construction experience. “I’ve volunteered for Housing Assistance Corporation during their Big Fix, mostly yard work,” she said. She was assured by Mary Ann Mills-Lassiter, family programs manager for Habitat, that Sullivan “is a really good teacher.”

Born and raised in Sandwich, Shiever was living in a small studio basement apartment in Provincetown. “People were wary to rent to a single-income single parent,” she said. One sleepless night, she said, she found a unit in Eastham on Housing Assistance Corporation’s website, and with rental assistance was able to move in.

Offering support throughout was Maggie Flanagan, program director of the Orleans-based Homeless Prevention Council, which works to connect people to resources throughout the Lower and Outer Cape and help them deal with the challenges of living on the Lower Cape.

“She’s really a mentor for me,” Shiever said of Flanagan. Before the pandemic, they met once a month to explore ways she could continue to be more self-sufficient; then they stayed in touch by phone. When Flanagan heard about the Habitat house in Orleans, she told Shiever, “You’re very responsible. You’d make a great homeowner.”

Then, “some miracle happened,” and her name came up in the lottery. She told her daughter, “We have a new home and I’m going to help build it.” The little girl replied, “In a neighborhood?”

Also “helping to build it” are the home’s financial sponsors, Nancy and Bob Renn. She chairs the town’s affordable housing committee and he serves on the finance committee.

“Our family has been supporting Habitat projects for the past 30 years,” Bob wrote in an email. “It began in Forth Worth, Texas, when my son and I volunteered with others from our church… When we moved to Greenville. S.C., I… led two major building projects – an eight-home blitz build in that city, followed by the construction of six homes in Waveland and Bay St. Louis, Miss., in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.”

Since moving to Orleans in 2009, Renn wrote, “Nancy has conducted volunteer registrations and provided snacks for the volunteers. I’ve driven nails on builds in Dennis, Eastham, Harwich, Orleans and Brewster… We are pleased to share the blessings we enjoy by seeing our gift create a homeownership opportunity for another family in our town.”

Once settled, Shiever plans to pursue further education while working – she has an associate’s degree in early childhood education and is certified to teach up to kindergarten. Then there’s the kind of education you get by living on Cape Cod. For Shiever, whose stepfather taught her to hunt and fish here, South Orleans offers many opportunities to share those skills with her daughter.

“There’s a light at the end of this tunnel,” she said, “and it’s a bright one.”

Applications are available for six affordable homes to be built on Murray Lane at 93-92 Main St. in Harwich. Those interested should send an email to to sign up for an information workshop on Nov. 10 or 18. Applications are due Dec. 1.