Building A Foundation: Habitat Home Gives Mother, Daughter A Fresh Start In Orleans

By: Ryan Bray

Topics: Orleans news , Affordable housing , Community Sustainability , Habitat for Humanity

Jessica Shiever and her daughter, Willow, sit outside their new home at 15 Quanset Road in Orleans. The two-bedroom home was built with the help of local businesses and volunteers through Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod. RYAN BRAY PHOTO

ORLEANS -- When Jessica Shiever was given the keys to her new home at 15 Quanset Rd. last week, she held her future in her hands.

Two years earlier, Jessica, 32, was a working, single mother struggling to find affordable housing for herself and her daughter, Willow. The lease on her small studio apartment in Provincetown was due to run out, so she turned to the Homeless Prevention Council for help.

There she met Maggi Flanagan, who encouraged her to apply for a new home being built on Quanset Road through Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod.

"I had a single income," said Jessica, who works as a server. "I was a single working parent. It was nearly impossible to find an apartment I could afford."

One of five eligible applicants (Cape residents who make within 65 percent of the county's area median income qualify for Habitat housing), Jessica was selected via lottery to own the two-bedroom, single-family ranch-style home. A dedication ceremony was held Oct. 6 on the property, where friends, family and community members who volunteered time and money toward the home's construction gathered to wish her and Willow well.

"I don't know what this feeling is called, but I think excitement is an understatement," Jessica said.

The Quanset Road home is deed restricted in perpetuity to ensure its affordability. Mary Ann Mills-Lassiter, family programs manager for Habitat Cape Cod, said the 30-year mortgage on the home comes out to about $700 a month, including electricity. All other utilities are separate, she said.

The half-acre property was purchased for $200,000 by the Orleans Affordable Housing Trust in July 2019. A team of 16 community volunteers helped in the home's construction, while companies including Shepley Wood Products, Fraser Construction, CertainTeed, Boston Granite Exchange, J. Brown Landscaping, Pine Harbor Wood Products, Winkler Crane and Construction and Osprey Electrical Contractor, Inc., each contributed services and materials to the project.

Jessica was also required to put 250 hours of sweat equity into the home herself. Through that effort, she said she and her daughter came away with not only a new home, but with a sense of belonging in the community.

"I've just met some of the best people I've ever met. Complete strangers who come to volunteer to build your house, strangers who donate money to your house and to your future. They're investing in somebody that they don't know. The amount of support that I've received is very surreal still.

"It's restored my faith in humanity, plain and simple," she said. "It's laid the foundation for our future."

Longtime Habitat volunteers Nancy Renn and her husband, Bob, donated $55,000 toward the house's construction as the project's home sponsors. Bob also gave the home blessing on Oct. 6.

"For us, this doesn't end with today," Nancy said of her relationship with Jessica and Willow. "It will continue onward, because we've developed a bond that's going to last. That in itself is a gift."

Between 10 and 12 homes a year are built through Habitat for Humanity of Cape Cod., and the Quanset Road home represents the 10th built in Orleans to date.

The Habitat housing comes as local officials, both in Orleans and across the Cape, continue to struggle with a lack of year-round affordable and workforce housing, especially for young families. The 62-unit Pennrose development promises to bring more affordable units to town, while other sites including the Governor Prence Inn and the former Masonic Lodge on Main Street are also being looked at for the creation of additional housing.

Nancy, who chairs the town's affordable housing committee, said Orleans needs projects of varying sizes to truly meet the community's housing needs.

"So many of our people are cost burdened right now, which means they're spending over 30 percent of their income on rent," she said. "That's not sustainable. We have big projects and small projects, and I think what we see for affordable housing in the future is all kinds of housing. We're trying to find what works in neighborhoods and what's available for people to use."

Marianne Thomas, who served as one of Jessica's family partners on the project, gifted Jessica a Bible at the dedication, while the new homeowner was also given a handmade quilt from Miriam Sleighter as a housewarming gift. Other gifts included a new bookcase built and donated by students at Barnstable High School.

Speaking at the dedication, Thomas said Jessica embodies the type of resident that Habitat aims to serve through its housing initiatives.

"Jessica, as I've come to know you, I've come to know the essence of tenacity and courage and perseverance," she said. "Through all of the challenges, you've managed to find the good in the hardship."

But for Jessica, the home best represents a future for Willow, now three and a half.

"It felt like I was setting an example for my daughter that even as a single parent, even with a limited income, even with a limited ability to work because of how expensive childcare is, that with perseverance and in the right company, you can still achieve every goal you set for yourself," she said.

"From the start for Jess, it was very clear that this was about Willow," said Wendy Cullinan, CEO of Habitat For Humanity Cape Cod. "This was about giving her the very best childhood she could give her.

The mother and daughter were due to move into the home the following day. Willow recently started preschool, while Jessica said she plans to go to school for her masters degree in psychology.

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com