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Habitat for Humanity of Summit County building through pandemic challenges

Posted at 5:22 PM, Oct 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-26 20:46:06-04

AKRON, Ohio — Erin Skipper, a mother of two children, has been paying $900 a month to rent an Akron house, but by early next year she will officially own her first home and the mortgage will be $450, or half of her current rent payment.

"I can't wait. It's real exciting, extremely, and it's something I actually worked for," Skipper said.

Skipper was approved for a home through Habitat for Humanity of Summit County and she selected a spot on Chester Avenue near Innes Middle School.

For the first time in its 34-year history, the non-profit is building a cluster of eight homes in the same neighborhood. Most of homes are on East Avenue on land once owned by Akron Children's Hospital.

"These families together can be here to support each other," said Rochelle Sibbio, the president and CEO for Habitat for Humanity of Summit County.

Habitat currently averages 10 new homes each year and has built 214 homes in Summit County since 1986.

In recent years, the organization has built more homes in Akron than anyone else. It continues to capitalize on the city's 15-year residential tax abatement program for new construction.

The tax breaks are passed along to those who qualify for a Habitat for Humanity home. The owners also receive an interest-free 30-year mortgage. The average monthly payment in Akron is $450, but higher in Summit County suburbs.

"With the abatement and that $450 a month payment, it becomes much more attractive to our low to moderate income home buyers to take advantage of that," Sibbio said.

She also stressed that affordable housing solutions have never been more important as more people face struggles during the pandemic.

"There are those that have lost their hours, lost their jobs totally, been furloughed for a period of time," she said.

The COVID-19 pandemic stopped the building earlier this year. Habitat for Humanity of Summit County had to pause construction for about two months and place many of its workers on furlough.

The workers are back on the job sites, but Sibbio said there are still breaks in the supply chain when it comes to receiving lumber, siding and windows in a timely manner.

"Getting building materials has been extremely difficult during this time," Sibbio said.

With social distancing concerns, Sibbio said another challenge has been the significant drop in helping hands from unskilled volunteers who typically play a large role in building the homes.

"When 80% of our homes are built with volunteers, companies aren't allowing their employees to go out. We are trying to be safe. People have to be masked," Sibbio added. "There is still a call for unskilled workers that want to come out and do a day of service."

Those approved for the home ownership program are also required to put in 250 "sweat equity" hours, which includes helping with the building process.

Skipper has already completed 142 hours and is very excited to start her new life in her new home.

"A brand new home that no one has ever, ever lived in that you put your blood, sweat and tears in," she said.