Habitat EcoVillage takes shape as homeowners dig inArea News
-- Habitat homeowners and a big group of their supporters gathered at 4:30 p.m. on July 17 to scoop up a golden shovelful of dirt and officially commemorate the groundbreaking of the EcoVillage project.
By: Debbie Griffin, Pierce County Herald
Habitat homeowners and a big group of their supporters gathered at 4:30 p.m. on July 17 to scoop up a golden shovelful of dirt and officially commemorate the groundbreaking of the EcoVillage project. Local and regional Habitat staff; scores of volunteers who help homeowner partners build; representatives from major sponsors; city officials; neighbors; and many friends commemorated the big day.
The plan, according to Habitat staff and project volunteers, includes building 18 houses, varying in size among two-, three-, and four-bedroom homes in a mix of twin- and single-family-detached homes. The construction plan also calls for the completion of eight more homes in 2013 and four more in 2014.
EcoVillage’s sustainable features make it unprecedented -- organizers expect the project to achieve certification in green building and for its homes to achieve nearly net-zero energy usage.
Some of the project’s Earth-friendly features include or will include super-insulated buildings; window placement to maximize solar gain; large solar photovoltaic and solar hot-water arrays on each home’s roof, as well as a “solar farm” of ground-mounted panels on site; r ain barrels and cisterns to harvest and store rainwater from roofs; and shared community gardens plus “edible landscapes.”
Special drainage features plus paths and driveways made of pervious materials will also help support plant life and prevent runoff. EcoVillage homes will also feature low-flow water fixtures; low-VOC cabinets, finishes, and counter tops; and Energy Star-rated appliances.
So how does someone qualify for a Habitat home? SCVHFH Director Jim Farr says the organization works hard to dispel the myth that Habitat homes are a giveaway, when it is “a hand up not a handout.”
Habitat homes meet the affordability needs of households making 25%-60% of the median income of an area; in SCVHFH’s case, the area is St. Croix and Pierce counties. Many types of families can qualify for a home -- the elderly, veterans, those with kids, singles, the physically or mentally challenged, couples.
Family partners must have a means of income to pay the mortgage, which is offered at zero interest through Habitat. The average payment depends on a few factors but is usually somewhere around $650 a month including taxes and insurance.
Each family provides between 300 and 500 hours of sweat equity -- work on theirs or another homeowner’s house, with many far exceeding that required amount. Their work and their mortgage payments help “pay it forward” and fund future homes.
Rammell and Nakeia Dismond look forward to moving into unit #1 of EcoVillage with their kids -- Kevin, 16; Zhania, 8, Jordaé, 6; and A’Nyssa, 3.
Nakeia said she learned about the possibility of a Habitat home by attending an open meeting at the River Falls Public Library. She found River Falls to be warm, welcoming and with a good energy -- she also liked the idea of eco-friendly construction.
She and her family had been living in a crowded townhome in New Richmond that she said “didn’t fit” them.
Nakeia completed the application last October then waited, “I didn’t think we were going to get it,” she said.
She attended an interview in November then got a late-winter call that her family had been selected to partner with Habitat at the EcoVillage.
The mother says since construction started, she’s been out helping about four times a week, often with her 16-year-old son along. So far she’s helped stabilize the foundation and affix foam blocks and bracers to the walls, saw wood, hang sheetrock and do other things.
Nakeia says she learned a lot in the sawing class she attended and that it was educational to see how everything was arranged so that it drains properly, “It was really interesting to watch them how they did that.”
The mother of four never imagined herself using a power drill or table saw, but she’s learned to handle both tools plus others. She has also enjoyed the chance to meet many of her future neighbors, who’ve also been working at the site.
Nakeia says she was thrilled with the prospect of not only having an affordable home that accommodates her family, but also preserves the planet for future generations.
“This is a good opportunity to learn something different and give back to the Earth,” she said.
Sara Zugschwert moved to River Falls from the Twin Cities about nine years ago after commuting for 10 years to attend St. Bridget Catholic Church. She works at Shopko and the Abundant Life Christian Learning Center -- she also worked with the YMCA day care program.
“I’ve never been able to afford a house, that’s why I’ve been renting all these years,” she said, adding that she’ll pay less for housing and utilities in her home.
Having issues with her rental home, a lady at church suggested she look into a Habitat house. She says one day she wandered into Habitat’s Elm Street office to ask about completing a home ownership application.
She was thrilled to learn a while later, that at age 50, she’ll be a first-time homeowner. She said it’s nice knowing she has a comfortable one-level home for now and throughout her retirement.
Zugschwert enjoys knowing that the money she’ll remit for her mortgage helps “pay it forward” and enables others to buy an affordable home.
She says she’ll be paying less money for her mortgage and utilities than she’s been paying in rent and utilities for the past 17 years.
She said CVTC students will lead her “build,” beginning in August and finishing next June. Some people have commented that seems like a long time to wait.
She responds, “Look, I waited 50 years for a house, I can wait a little longer.”
Zugschwert is learning new terms like footings and rebar, toting lumber from one site to the other, tying down rebar, and taping Styrofoam to forms.
She feels “over the moon” about the eco-friendly features that not only make living there more affordable, but are also kind to the Earth. One of her future neighbors is a gardener who will teach her about growing vegetables in the community garden.
She said, “I’ve never had the opportunity to grow my own food.”