House-hungry town loves 'vo-tech' homes Students build affordable Snow Hill residences


SNOW HILL -- There were no flags, no glossy brochures, no real estate agents, no fanfare. But the new house at 4231 Keep Court is a dream home all the same -- an affordable house for a low-income family in this lower Shore town of 2,500 residents.

The three-bedroom, single-story house was constructed by students at Worcester County Career and Technology Center outside Snow Hill and will sell for just under $60,000. Its move yesterday from the school to its permanent site marked the end of a year of work by students and members of a local housing coalition.

"It's a ballet, it really is," said Tawney Kraus, president of Snow Hill Citizens for Decent Housing, a nonprofit group of volunteers that has placed six other such houses in Snow Hill, as she watched the house being positioned on the wooded lot by the moving company.

"We need this," agreed area resident Betty Showell, one of a handful of onlookers as the house was brought by truck to the site. "Nice houses -- that's something we ain't got. In Salisbury, Princess Anne, you see all these nice apartments for people to live in. You don't see that here."

"There is a need, no question about it," said Louis Volandt, town manager of Snow Hill. "We do have several houses that are being condemned." Although Snow Hill has no homeless people, the town has a waiting list for Section 8 assistance (federal and state rent subsidies), he said. At least four families are in homes that have been condemned, and others might be looking for better places to live, he said.

Snow Hill Citizens for Decent Housing began a decade ago. The partnership between the vocational students and the volunteer group was the result of an idea from John Bertrand, then the town's zoning administrator, Ms. Kraus said. Funded initially by block grants, the "vo-tech houses," as they are called now, pay for themselves: Money from the sale of "Vo-Tech No. 7" at 4231 Keep Court will pay for "Vo-Tech No. 8," Ms. Kraus said.

The program benefits everyone involved with it. Students learn by doing masonry, carpentry, electric wiring and air conditioning and refrigeration, said Jack Davis, the carpentry teacher who oversees the building of each house.

"I helped with the plans for the first one," Mr. Davis said yesterday, pointing to a framed picture of "Vo-Tech No. 1," signed by all the students who helped build it in 1984-1985. About half of his students end up in the building trades, he said, and three have become general contractors.

"It's hard at first," said Kenny Pittman, a senior who worked on No. 7 and along with his classmates will start No. 8 on Monday. "But after the second or third, it gets easier and easier."

"I find it very useful," said Keith Cylc, another carpentry student. "They're looking for young people with experience -- doing a house like this gives me a good start."

At the other end of the process, the houses benefit families who need decent places to live, Ms. Kraus said. A prospective buyer for No. 7 still is undergoing the review for a low-interest loan, she said.

The prospective buyer for No. 7, she said, is a family with two young girls whose parents are in their 40s and work full time. Like the other six buyers of the student-built houses, they are first-time homebuyers, she said.

There have been no problems with upkeep or payments on any of the homes, Ms. Kraus said.

"When you put a first-time homebuyer in a home, the pride is just enormous," she said yesterday. "It's just amazing what home ownership will do for a family."

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