CLAREMONT — If your house needs fixing and you don't have suitcases full of cash sitting around, Habitat for Humanity might be able to help you. Although the international nonprofit is primarily known for helping people build their houses, in Claremont they're doing home repairs.
Dan Howard of Pearl Street has owned his house for 18 years after buying it from his father, Loren. The house was built in 1902, when the view from the front porch swept over open fields and Mount Ascutney in the distance. Nowadays the view is just the houses and trees across the way, and the rambling old dwelling that once had space for a cow byre in the basement sits on a modest lot surrounded by other homes.
Howard's in the middle of removing two old boilers from the basement — he's got one behemoth strapped to a dolly, and with a doughty young man helping him, has wrestled the thing into the basement doorway. His hands are black with grime, both men are soaked in sweat and covered with dirt from the basement. A serenade of Shakespearian curses — he's also a stage actor — can be heard from the middle of Pearl Street.
Waving one blackened hand from the doorway, Howard says, “This is the reality.”
With assistance from Habitat for Humanity, he's been able to do a lot of non-cosmetic work on his house, such as replacing sinks, fixing the subfloor in the kitchen and laying new linoleum, repairing the chimney, and so forth. “You don't see a lot of the pretty things that are very important here,” said Howard.
“When you own a home and there's extenuating circumstances, you can get overwhelmed,” said Howard. Having to replace the boiler came as an unpleasant surprise. “That kind of ate up a lot of the remainder of my funds. I've been behind the eight ball for some time, so seeing that money come was like, Wow.”
This morning, Howard has finished piling dozens of the old pipes for heat and plumbing in the driveway.
“That was a lot of fun because I had to cut them all out of the ceiling,” said Howard.
Habitat for Humanity's programs depend a lot on sweat equity. In addition to organizing teams of volunteers who help build houses, the nonprofit also assists homeowners with qualifying for mortgages, or with assistance getting loans in the first place. In order to qualify to buy a house, homeowners commonly commit to 500 hours of sweat equity. It doesn't have to be heavy lifting — some do office work, for instance.
“Our standards are not bank level,” said Don Derrick, who directs neighborhood revitalization projects in Claremont for Habitat for Humanity. “One of our criteria is people cannot access normal bank loans.”
Homeowners must live in the house, and be current on their taxes. Habitat can help with the rest, including getting your credit in better shape.
“The good news is New Hampshire Housing has provided us with funding,” said Derrick. “The way these houses get done is the homeowner applies through us, and they can get from $10,000 to $35,000 in assistance. It goes as a mortgage, but there aren't monthly payments and it's not due unless they sell the house.”
The cluster of home repair projects on and around Pearl Street began as a New Hampshire Neighborhood Revitalization project. Derrick said Habitat, based in White River Junction, wants to expand the area they're working in in Claremont, but more importantly, to start a chapter in Claremont itself.
“When this group gets funded, they're not going to have to rush around trying to raise gobs of money,” said Derrick.
However, finding homeowners to apply is proving difficult. Howard said when he heard about it, he thought he'd give it a try because it might be one of those things — “It sounds great, but then nobody applies for it.”
He was right. Derrick is hoping to spread the word about Habitat here, especially since there's money available. So far they've focused on one area, but he wants to expand it through Claremont.
In addition to funding help, Habitat provides a lot of practical help, including teaching people how to build and make repairs. Howard looks like he's been working on houses all his life, but it's an illusion — he's learned a lot by working alongside the Habitat folks, and the volunteers.
“I really want to make sure we thank all the groups that have volunteered and helped,” said Howard. “Bucknell University, Tuck School — a couple times they came, Hypertherm came several times, the Brick Church in Hartland. Chimney Savers — that was huge.”
Hypertherm's employees can draw regular pay three days a year while doing community service, a tremendous help to Habitat, especially since they can work on weekdays “and a lot of them are quite handy,” said Derrick.
Chimney Savers swooped in to not only repair the chimneys, but donated stainless steel pipe to line the chimneys as well, saving Howard almost $18,000.
“It's going to be my best winter yet,” said Howard. “And hopefully, with all this help I'll be able to hold on and move forward.”