New Habitat homes planned for Williamstown

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Folks who live in the Cole Avenue area are going to get some new neighbors — but not for another year or so.

The Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity is about to begin construction on a three-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot house at the corner of Cole and Maple Street. Using around 250 volunteers — and some subcontractors to handle things like excavation, foundation, plumbing and electrical systems — officials hope the new family will move in next summer.

Once the new family moves in, there will be another house built next door, and another family will become new neighbors about a year later.

And once those two structures are done, the Habitat crew will move to Summer Street and build two more, according to Paul Austin, project manager and member of the Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity board.

Austin said excavator subcontractors will start site work in June at the Cole Avenue location, including the foundation. Once the foundation is set, "then we'll really get started on framing. We want to get it closed in before it gets cold again."

The Habitat program requires that the home be affordable and that the family who buys it meets income requirements. The family is also required to contribute 250 hours of labor in building the house. The kids can contribute to that time requirement by getting good grades or doing community service. Other than the work that needs licensed professionals, all the rest of the work is done by roughly 200 to 250 volunteers. The cost of that labor, Austin noted, is taken off the purchase price, cutting the cost in half.

But the need for volunteers is pretty intense, so some local firms have in the past created a volunteer day program when it pays its employees for the day, but sends them to work at the Habitat project for the day. Austin said a lot of folks just volunteer on an individual basis, and there are a number of Williams College students who help out.

Typically, volunteers will gather there three days a week.

In past years, the Habitat program has built two news houses and renovated one in Williamstown.

Once it's done, the family will sign on for a very low interest U.S. Department of Agriculture mortgage through its Rural Development Program, Austin said. This house will cost the family about $140,000, roughly half of the cost of building it.

The homes are designed to be energy efficient and therefore more affordable.

Andrew Hogeland, member of the Williamstown Select Board and a member of the Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity board, said that the original proposal was for three units to be built at the Cole Avenue site. But in conversations with the neighbors, it became apparent that their concerns of overcrowding at that parcel meant it would not fit in with the character of the rest of the neighborhood, so the plan was scaled back.

"The parcels were purchased a few years ago by the Affordable Housing Trust as a possible location for affordable housing," Hogeland said. "Habitat was chosen to develop the housing."

After getting permission from the state to impose a deed restriction to insure that the homes will remain as affordable housing — and state permission to bypass a few town zoning requirements — they set to work on design.

Austin said the plans are about 80 percent complete.

Hogeland noted that Habitat is applying for a town building permit, which is expected in June. Once the building permit is in, work will start.

Part of the cost of construction will be paid by a $70,000 Community Preservation grant approved by Williamstown voters at Town Meeting on May 21.

"Williamstown has been amazingly supportive of affordable housing for several years, and that continued with that vote at Town Meeting," Hogeland said. "We're always looking for more people to move into town."

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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