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August 7, 2019

Habitat for Humanity breaks ground in Rutland

By Curt Peterson

RUTLAND—Habitat for Humanity of Rutland County hosted a ground breaking ceremony at a new city project Sunday, Aug. 4. The house, owned by the city, had suffered a major fire a year ago. The city razed it and donated the lot to Habitat for Humanity for $1, according to Eric Solsaa, the board chair of Habitat for Humanity.

Rutland Redevelopment Authority and Habitat for Humanity have partnered in building an affordable, energy-efficient home on the site at 120 Crescent Street as part of efforts to revitalize the northwest neighborhood and get this property back on the city’s tax rolls.

Hassam Alhallak, his wife Hazar Mansour, and three children will own the house when it’s completed sometime in March 2020, Alhallak told the Mountain Times.

“We feel very happy and very excited,” he said. “Thanks to God for everything.”

Hassam works from 9 a.m.until 3 p.m. every Saturday as a laborer at the site, investing in the project what Habitat for Humanity calls “sweat equity.” He and his wife both earned certificates in accounting at Community College of Vermont. He works in the accounting department at Casella Construction Company and Hazar is busy with their young infant for the moment.

He heard about Habitat for Humanity from several friends who encouraged him to apply. A friend named Hunter helped them complete the paperwork, which Hassam said was very difficult.

Solsaa said the qualifications are liberal, but firm.

“The process is need-based,” he told the Mountain Times. “Applicants have to document income, dependents, current housing issues, a debt-to-income ratio below 30%, and clear a criminal background check.”

The Alhallaks now live in a 2-bedroom apartment with no dining room, no closets and no yard.

When the Alhallaks take possession they may have a thirty-year mortgage loan payment less than $600 per month, Solsaa said, although he cautioned it is too early to produce an accurate estimate. Habitat for Humanity will hold the mortgage, which will be interest-free.

This is possible in part because many community members and organizations cooperate and donate both financially and “in kind” to make it work.

“For example, Ace Arborists donated chipping services when the lot was cleared,” Solsaa said. “Mac Equipment and Steel supplied the foundation rebar, Casella Construction supplied fill, and there are several others.”

Volunteers will provide construction labor every Wednesday and Saturday until the house is finished.

John Casella offered to match whatever amount of money Casella Construction employees raised for the project, which was $16,000, according to Solsaa, and Casella matched it.

A Vermont Housing and Conservation Board grant helped lower Habitat for Humanity’s cost as well.

The three-bedroom house will have electric heat pumps providing both heating and cooling, Solsaa said.

“It’s not quite the upper tier in energy efficiency,” he said, “but it’s very close. The Alhallaks’ heating costs will be significantly lower than they would be in a standard home.”

About 75 people, including several of Hassam’s colleagues from the Casella firm, attended the groundbreaking.

This is the third Habitat for Humanity project in Rutland, and the second donated by the city. Another earlier site was donated by John Griswold of Stone Gate.

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