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Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna seeks support for Havre de Grace project, receives property tax rebate

Karen Blandford, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, talks during the dedication of two new Habitat homes in 700 block of Girard Street in Havre de Grace last May.
Karen Blandford, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, talks during the dedication of two new Habitat homes in 700 block of Girard Street in Havre de Grace last May. (Courtesy Cathy Herlinger / Baltimore Sun)

Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna is seeking the community’s support, both as construction volunteers and financial donors, as it proceeds with its seven-house Revolutionary Homeownership Project in Havre de Grace.

The project, which is the nonprofit’s first subdivision, includes one single-family house and three duplex units — with six houses — in the 500 block of South Freedom Lane.

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The project area covers five parcels between Freedom Lane and South Stokes Street, bounded on the north end by Revolution Street. The single-family house along Freedom Lane is under construction. Habitat is working with the city to get final approval for the duplex units, which will be off of Stokes, and officials hope those approvals will come through before the end of January.

“We like to say, ‘We are stoked for this revolutionary homeownership opportunity, giving families the freedom to break free from poverty,’ ” Karen Blandford, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, said Monday. The saying incorporates the names of all three streets bordering the property.

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On July 10 and 13, Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna, along with community leaders, volunteers, sponsors, donors, homeowners’ families and friends, celebrated the completion of two Habitat homes at dedication ceremonies held in Aberdeen and Joppa, respectively.

The City of Havre de Grace helped defray some of the project’s $1.1 million in materials costs last week when City Council approved an ordinance granting a one-year property tax reimbursement worth $1,657.72. The council approved it 5-0 during its Jan. 22 meeting; Councilman Jason Robertson was absent.

Blandford appeared at the meeting with Anne Hottle, the affiliate’s director of acquisitions. She thanked council members in advance for their support of Ordinance 1011, speaking during the public comment portion in the beginning of the meeting.

She said the tax break helps Habitat “chip away and chip away” at some project costs.

“We’ve been very, very happy to work with the city,” Blandford told city leaders. “On all aspects of this you have been wonderful.”

Habitat for Humanity International, headquartered in Americus, Ga., has local affiliates that coordinate fundraising and volunteer efforts to build houses for families in need.

To qualify for a house, families must show they can afford a down payment and mortgage. They also put in hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” by working with volunteers to build their houses or assisting Habitat in other ways such as working in a Habitat ReStore home improvement center, working in their administrative offices — some affiliates even grant sweat equity hours if the family’s children earn good grades in school, according to the Habitat International website.

Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna has built 105 houses and repaired more than 500 dwellings in Cecil and Harford counties over the past 25 years. The Harford County affiliate was founded in 1993, and it merged with the Cecil affiliate seven years ago, creating Habitat Susquehanna, according to Blandford.

The local affiliate has overseen the building of six houses in Havre de Grace so far, with nine more in the pipeline, including the seven of The Revolutionary Homeownership Project and two more on Erie Street, according to Blandford.

“We are a significant addition to the investment in Havre de Grace,” she said Monday. “All of these [houses] are [on] infill lots where there hasn’t been investment in that neighborhood for quite a while, and it helps bring up value in neighborhoods.”

Support is needed

Blandford hopes to have the Revolutionary project complete by June 2020, which she acknowledged is “a fairly fast pace.” That depends on final approvals from the city, as well as support from volunteers and monetary donations.

The projected cost for materials — land, architectural and engineering services, electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, as well as lumber, paint and insulation — is more than $1.1 million.

Blandford said $711,000 has been committed so far, and the affiliate is working to raise about $400,000 more.

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“We are actively fundraising,” she said. “We really do need help, and anything the community can do is appreciated.”

She said Habitat leaders are grateful for the city tax rebate “because that’s how we build a million-dollar project, little by little.”

Habitat Susquehanna has received tax rebates for other properties it has owned in Cecil and Harford County and the City of Aberdeen, which have been in effect as long as the affiliate owns the property. The rebate ends once the property is sold to the homeowner, and they are responsible for the property taxes, Blandford said.

The Havre de Grace rebate will be in effect for one year, although the affiliate expects to own the properties for its Revolutionary Homeownership Project — land it acquired in 2018 — for two years, Blandford said.

“We need more time to build, so it appears we would pay one year and get one year reduced,” she said.

Council President David Glenn said during the meeting that “the focus of the ordinance is on current-year city taxes paid.”

“It’s a one-time tax reimbursement,” Glenn continued.

Visit Habitat for Humanity Susquehanna’s website, https://habitatsusq.org, for more information on volunteering, making donations and homeownership programs.

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