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Wanted: resident for Habitat house in Allegany County

CRESAPTOWN — Habitat for Humanity’s first house in Allegany County is about 65 percent complete, thanks to scores of volunteers, including high school students from the Center for Career and Technical Education.

But the organization is still searching for a family to live there.

Efforts that began last summer to find a family to help build and buy the home haven’t produced a qualified candidate, said board member Shauna McQuade. The Allegany County chapter of Habitat officially formed in August 2009, and construction on the first home, located on McMullen Highway just south of Winchester Road, started last fall.

“We’ve actually had to reopen our search,” McQuade said, adding that many of those who applied in the first round weren’t clear about the rules.

“We’re new in the county. A lot of people have heard of Habitat for Humanity, but I guess, in a way, people don’t really understand the process. … We do have some pretty strict guidelines.”

Recipients of a Habitat house must have an annual income of no more than $22,900 for a single person, or $43,830 for a family of eight, and they must live in housing that is demonstrably inadequate or substandard, according to guidelines. To qualify, applicants must have resided in Allegany County for at least two years.

And the house is not simply a free gift. Recipients of a Habitat house pay a no-interest mortgage and are required to contribute from 300 to 400 hours of “sweat equity” by working on Habitat construction projects.

Typically, the homeowner gets involved with construction starting on day one, said Doug McKenzie, an Allegany County Habitat board member.

“Since we don’t have a family yet, that person hasn’t had a chance to do sweat equity on their house,” said McKenzie, who is leading construction on the McMullen Highway house.

“We will expect them to contribute to other Habitat projects,” McKenzie said. “There might be some opportunities yet to work on this house, if a family is found soon. There’s going to be a lot of ground work, a lot of painting. But they’ve missed the fun part.”

Land for the house was donated to Habitat by the Gene Pratt family. Locally, the group hopes to build at least one home a year, McKenzie said, and plans are being developed for a second project.

Allegany County’s Habitat is the newest Maryland affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, a Christian, nonprofit organization that provides “decent, affordable housing” for those in need.

On Wednesday, about 30 students from the Center for Career and Technical Education worked at the 1,200-square-foot house, which has three bedrooms and one bath. Teachers at the career center approached Habitat earlier this year about sending students to the site to give them a “hands-on, real-world experience,” said HVAC instructor Joe Cunningham.

“I think it’s a good fit for us because we’re slow,” said Cunningham, who carried a set of blueprints and directed students at various tasks. “Habitat only works on Saturday, so it just naturally goes really slowly. I’m hoping by the end of the school year we’ll be done with our part.”

Though career center students in construction fields spend time each year working at a “student project” house, there is no electrical or HVAC work that needs to be done at the current home in Rawlings, Cunningham said. The Habitat house is at a perfect stage for those students.

“Right now, we’re just kind of getting material lists, designing the heating system, designing the plumbing system,” Cunningham said.

“We laid out the bathroom for the piping, the plumbing,” said Zac Plummer, a senior HVAC student, who wore a red hardhat. “We laid out the piping for the kitchen.”

“We made tentative marks for drilling holes,” Cunningham said.

“Tentative marks?” Plummer said.

“Until checked by higher authority,” Cunningham teased.

McKenzie said that Habitat has gotten “excellent response” to its call for volunteers, with a regular crew of about 15 people helping at the site each Saturday. Numerous businesses and individuals have donated labor and materials for the project, he said.

“Really, the stuff the career center kids are doing is going to get us through the drywall stage, and we already have a contractor that has donated his services for that,” McKenzie said. “They’ve been great.”