House built by Harford Tech students for Habitat for Humanity delivered to permanent site

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Jessica Northcutt has lived in Edgewood, Joppa and Aberdeen over the last few years, renting places for a year or two at a time.

Soon, she’ll be the owner of a modular house built by Harford Technical High School students in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity. She got to see it delivered Monday.

Northcutt, who is buying her first home through Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, watched as the two sections of her new house were transferred from the construction area at Harford Tech in Bel Air to their foundation on Giles Lane in Aberdeen.

“I feel excited and just relieved,” Northcutt said as she waited for the sections to be delivered. “I can actually have a house and have it for my kids.”

Through its partnership, Harford Tech builds one house for Habitat every two years, said Michael Svezzese Jr., a construction and carpentry instructor at Harford Tech, as he watched one of the sections lifted and lowered onto its foundation. The modular house was built in two pieces, or modules, at Harford Tech then transferred and put together at its permanent site. Svezzese is the guiding force for Harford Tech’s part of a Habitat house project.

Habitat “creates affordable housing opportunities throughout Harford and Cecil counties by building, renovating, and repairing homes in partnership with the community,” according to its website, www.habitatsusq.org.

This is the eighth house build through the partnership, Cathy Herlinger, communications and outreach specialist for Habitat Susquehanna, said Monday.

People interested in partnering with Habitat in order to qualify for a house must fill out an interest form online. Qualifications include income not below about $20,000 a year; the buyer cannot have owned a house within the last three years and must have lived in Harford or Cecil County for at least a year prior to buying the home, according to Habitat.

Qualified applicants that demonstrate the greatest need for a Habitat house are selected. Examples of need include, but are not limited to, living with structural problems, inadequate living space and safety and stability issues, according to Habitat’s website.

Northcutt, a server at Denny’s in Edgewood, will live in the new home with her sons, Dylan, 4, who’s in pre-kindergarten at Bakerfield Elementary, and Westen, 10 months. She said she anticipates settling on the house at the end of June.

To receive a low- or no-interest loan to buy her house through the Habitat program, Northcutt’s had to put in 250 hours of “sweat equity” of actual hands-on physical or other involvement. Examples include construction of Habitat homes, classes in homeowner education and budgeting, office assistance, preparing or serving food to volunteers, school grades of applicants and children, self-development, community development, etc., according to the website.

The work done jointly with Harford Tech s Habitat construction director Jeremy Bopst’s favorite partnership, he said.

“It’s awesome,” Bopst said. “From a school side — it’s a life lesson.”

He said Svezzese is a “hard knocks” teacher. He treats his students as if they were employees, “because that’s what they need in the real world.”

“They’re learning a trade and can get a well paying job right out of high school,” he said.

Svezzese, who’s been at Harford Tech nearly 14 years, said he used to be vice president with Martins Inc. After he retired, his wife suggested he impart the knowledge he had learned in his profession to high school students.

“When you help out an organization, not only are the students learning skills, they’re learning how to help others,” Svezzese said.

The sum of the parts

Harford Tech junior Kyle Robey, who was the manager for the construction project this year, said he felt really good Monday about delivering the house.

“Just knowing this family out there that needs the help and we can just do this for them, it just brings us all together,” Robey said.

He got to school extra early Monday to watch as the two sections were loaded onto the large flatbed trailers that would bring them to Aberdeen. He wanted to make sure he saw them leave.

“It’s the first full house I’ve worked on,” Robey said. “At the end, I was coming in a number of periods a day to make sure it was getting done. It was a part of me.”

Because most of the work on her home was done by Harford Tech students, Northcutt has been putting in her sweat equity working on other Habitat projects, she said.

“I’ve learned so much,” Northcutt said. “Now I’ll be able to fix stuff, to work on things, be able to fix my own house.”

She must also take financial literacy classes to assist her with paying back her low- to no-interest mortgage.

As one of the sections made its way down Giles Lane, Dylan watched in awe.

“Is that window mine?” he asked.

The 4-year-old said he’s excited to have his own room — painted orange, and maybe blue and pink — and to have sleepovers at night with his cousins.

“I love it, I love it,” Northcutt said as the house was lowered. “I just really want to see it. It’s mind-blowing.”

Habitat tries to build eight new houses a year, Bopst said. Having Harford Tech students build one really helps out the organization, which has some recent challenges with staffing.

A house arrives onsite about 90 percent complete, he said.

Among the work that needs to be done are finishing the siding and shingles on the roof where the two pieces connect, flooring, cabinetry and the front and side porches. The water has been extended to the street and will be connected to the house Thursday, Bopst said.

He’d like to have BGE connect the power as soon as possible.

“The quicker we have power, the better,” Bopst said.

Bopst said he’s developed a great relationship with Svezzese over the years and the two learn a lot from each other. It’s also something different for the Habitat volunteers, who don’t otherwise work on modular homes.

Bopst also gets a chance to interact with the students, meeting with some of them every Wednesday to make changes or check progress.

“It’s just awesome, my favorite by far,” he said.

At Harford Tech, students in the construction program can concentrate in one of four areas: HVAC, electrical, carpentry and masonry.

About 85 percent of the Habitat house is carpentry, Robey said.

But they all learn the basics of the sustainable construction method, according to Svezzese.

Senior Kenny Cargo worked on the electrical components of the house, putting in the wiring, the receptacles, making sure the lights turned on, he said.

He felt like a weight was lifted off his chest Monday when the house left.

“We’re actually finally done,” said Cargo, who’s worked on the house for two years.

The freshmen and sophomores don’t do much of the work because they don’t have the skills yet. But they will spend many hours working on the next house, the frames for which were delivered as the completed house left and are already sitting in the construction bay.

“We’ve worked on this as a team and for the community. It feels good to help. Even when we’re in school, we can help the community,” Cargo, who’s joining the Marines after graduation, said. “I feel really good about myself and my school.”

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