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Habitat for Humanity Ready to Build

Nov. 8, 2005 — Thanks to the efforts of the community, the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity International is open for business and ready to start building houses for families in need.
"We’ve received some significant contributions from residents and companies in territory which have really helped to get us up and running," said Tom Bolt, president of Habitat USVI, when contacted Monday evening.
Bolt added contributions range from the donation of office space for the organization from Jim Armour of Armour Enterprises, to furniture from Cornerstone Strategies LLC, and Internet service from Ackley Communications.
Matt Allen, Habitat USVI’s founder and first president, also donated three computers, Bolt said, while various local clubs and church groups have pitched in to assist with cleanup activities and other tasks.
"We’ve even had groups come in from off-island to help us with things. So, there’s really been a tremendous outpouring from the inside and outside," Bolt said.
Cecile DeJongh, a Habitat USVI board member, said this involvement is due in part to Habitat for Humanity International's increase in publicity since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita sent devastating blows to residents on the mainland.
"Since Matt [Allen] founded Habitat here in 2004, we’ve been trying to build a profile for the organization, and I think these incidents have really shown people there is a need for the community to come together and help those less fortunate," she said.
Doing her part, DeJongh also made a donation to the organization—the site for Habitat’s first family home, located in Adele Gade, off of Garden Street in St. Thomas. The property, which used to belong to DeJongh’s grandmother, is one of many lots Habitat hopes to develop.
"What we’ve been seeing a lot of is people contributing property that has been passed on through families but has either been abandoned or difficult to rent," Bolt said. "We also have properties which have been rented but have deteriorated because the people living in them just didn’t care about the home or land—and that’s what has contributed to the deterioration of the downtown area in general."
Bolt said Habitat USVI plans to put "owners back into those buildings," which will ultimately facilitate the revitalization of Charlotte Amalie. "It really is a whole different element to housing," he said, adding that the organization will work in conjunction with the Historic Preservation Society on projects.
Of course, Habitat USVI will also be constructing new houses, which are sold to families at no profit and financed with no-interest loans. "When we choose a family, they put in 'sweat equity,' which means they contribute 400 hours to the building of their house—and that serves as the down-payment," DeJongh explained. "Once the house is finished, we give the family a no-interest loan to finance the difference, and that can be paid off over a 30-year period of time."
DeJongh said once the organization receives applications from those in need of housing, Habitat USVI will choose families based on criteria such as what percentage of income the family makes or how big the family is. Since the criteria are still being developed, the organization has not yet chosen a family for its first house, she said.
Work on the downtown site is scheduled to begin in January 2006, Bolt said.
"We’re supposed to have a projection of work dates by the end of the week," he added, "but I anticipate we’ll be working throughout the summer, not only because we have this project to complete, but because we’ll also have several other projects going on at the same time."
Bolt said the organization is still in need of volunteers to staff several of its support committees. To find out more, or to register with Habitat USVI, go to www.habitat.org, or call 714-5678. Applications for Habitat Partner Families are also available by calling 714-5678.

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