CHESTERTOWN — What might seem like a given for some, Kent Attainable Housing is trying to turn the often far-fetched dream of homeownership into a reality for all members of the community.
With 10 people on its board and between 20 to 30 volunteers, Kent Attainable Housing is moving forward with the installation of its first home, named the Garnet House. The house will be installed on the site of the original Garnett High School built in 1916 and replaced with the current Garnet Elementary School in about 1960.
“So it might be the last thing ever built on that property,” Vice President and Treasurer Ed Minch said. “Hopefully.”
Kent Attainable Housing was incorporated as a nonprofit in April. It is structured after Habitat for Humanity and similar organizations that provide affordable housing.
According to Kent Attainable Housing President Lani Seikaly, the first step in creating an attainable home was “exploring the need in the community.”
Seikaly said the decision to purchase the property where the Garnet House will be installed stemmed from a number of factors that also will influence the decision to purchase future home sites. She said the property needed to be located near jobs and schools as well as grocery stores because transportation can be an issue in Kent County.
“That’s what motivated us from the beginning. This wide disparity between what’s available and what people can afford in Kent County,” said Jonathan Chace, secretary for Kent Attainable Housing. “Just as a matter of history, Kent Attainable Housing is the first affordable housing nonprofit to be created in probably the last 10 years, at least. So, there’s a desperate need for it, but there’s very little attention or focus on this problem in Kent County.”
He said the property was purchased thanks to donations from the community after six months of research.
“We were just exploring the need in the community around poverty and we settled in on the affordable housing side,” Seikaly said. “We had zero funds, so we relied on donors to really purchase the first piece of property.”
The two-story house set to be installed there is a modular house designed pro bono by architect David Minch — Ed Minch’s brother.
Ed Minch said the home will be constructed by Beracah Homes out of Greenwood, Del. After the home is built, it will be transported to Chestertown in two parts on large, oversized tractor-trailers in late December. Ed Minch said that while the house is a modular, as it will be located within Chestertown’s Historic District, the design had to go before the Historic District Commission for approval.
“It’s a Chestertown-looking house,” Ed Minch said.
The foundation for the house is set to be dug by mid-December, with the modular home coming into town by Christmas.
Chace said the Chester River bridge will need to be closed to traffic while the house is traveling across it. He said he hopes Garnet Elementary School students will be able to watch the house come into town.
“The first truck pulls up and the crane picks it up and plops it down on a foundation that we have built. (The crane) turns around, picks up the second one and plops the second one on top of the first one,” Ed Minch said. “Then an hour later it’s all done.”
The next step, Ed Minch said is building porches, decks, installing cabinetry and plumbing fixtures, as well as adding interior finishings. While the house could have been ordered with more of its internal fixtures installed, he said they might have a donation of kitchen cabinets. He said this helps Kent Attainable Housing save money on the project as well as involves the community and the homeowner in construction.
Potential homebuyers of a Kent Attainable Housing home must meet certain criteria before they are approved. For a full list of criteria, visit kentattainablehousing.org.
Eligible applicants must have a need for a safe, decent and affordable home, as well as be able to pay an affordable mortgage. The applicant also be willing to partner with Kent Attainable Housing by “volunteering 50 hours of time that needs to include a homeownership workshop, financial literacy counseling and participation on the building and landscaping of their new home or another Kent Attainable home,” a news release states.
Ed Minch said the houses will appraise for slightly higher than $125,000. He said Kent Attainable Housing is hoping to get cooperation from a bank or from a federal or state program to reduce the down payment. He said they also are seeking grants to help the applicant have a low interest rate. He said as the homes are built to be energy efficient, the electric bill should not exceed $101 a month.
Chace said requiring potential homebuyers to attend a homeownership workshop means helping them “prepare to be successful homeowners.”
Seikaly said it also helps potential homeowners understand “the commitment they are being asked to make.”
According to the news release, families whose household income is not less than $24,000 and not more than 50% of the Kent County median income as defined by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development may apply.
“For example, a family of four cannot make more than $37,850 to be eligible for a Kent Attainable home. The range of maximum income begins at $26,500 for a family of one up to $43,450 for a family of eight,” the release states.
Applicants who are interested in buying a Kent Attainable home but cannot attend an orientation meeting should call 443-282-0622 to find out when future orientation sessions will be scheduled, the release states.
Ed Minch said while he hopes people who purchase a Kent Attainable home can keep it forever, there will be assistance available to those who are experiencing financial trouble.
“There’s a mentoring program, which begins at the point where the family makes the application. And the mentoring program continues through homeownership,” Chace said. “So there’s a relationship constructed with the family. They become friends and supporters. So, we’re confident that the family that takes ownership of this property is going to be in a good place.”
Seikaly said building homes in Kent County also means people, in some cases, will be paying for a mortgage that costs less than monthly rent for an apartment with half the space and without the pride that comes with homeownership. She said homeownership can be a bridge out of poverty.
“I think that’s also important to note, because just building more rental homes that are so far out-priced is not a good solution,” Seikaly said. “There were folks living in poverty, and by the way, 50% below medium is considered very low poverty, so we went after that group and the fact that we’re able to give them a home that’s maybe their first sizable asset is their first step out of poverty. So we’re really excited about making a dent into poverty as well as housing folks who need to be homed.”