Finally, a home — and a dream come true
Our Housing Needs
Lori Zaharek Demaraies and her two teenage sons have just moved from a long-time North Canaan rental into a Habitat for Humanity home in Lakeville. Like many first time home owners, Lori is thrilled with her new house.
Lori says, “It’s almost like divine intervention that I found the perfect home, in the perfect location, at the perfect time. I didn’t feel I’d ever have the chance again.” With limited time due to a new job and volunteering with “Survive the Drive” (going into high schools to teach teens about safe driving), Lori’s mom, Dianne Bottinelli, 75, put off her and her husband’s usual winter move to Florida to step in and help.
Since Lori’s sons struggled with virtual school, they pivoted to homeschooling. Dianne oversaw her grandsons’ education and was also there every day with the contractor, learning how to install hardwood floors, tiles and painting. Never underestimate a motivated senior! The boys learned to build cabinets, paint and help with landscaping, causing them to feel more connected to their new home. Her stepfather also pitched in, as did a group of young people from UConn who helped with the driveway and landscaping. It has been an incredible learning experience for them all.
Habitat requires home buyers to contribute 400 hours of “sweat equity” toward building their homes (200 hours for a home rehabilitation): 100 hours by the family with an additional 300 hours from family and friends. A professional site manager and licensed contractors, plumbers and electricians work on the projects along with the home buyers. In Lori’s case, until the easing of COVID restrictions allowed her family to work inside with the contractors, she contributed hours at This ‘n’ That from Habitat, Habitat’s resale store in North Canaan whose sales help underwrite their building goals. She has nothing but praise for contractor Ken Hall who was “amazing from start to finish.”
Habitat serves people in need of decent housing regardless of race or religion. To qualify, income must be less than 60% of the median income in Litchfield County for a family of the same size. The buyer purchases the home while Habitat retains the land, reducing the purchase price and real estate taxes and keeping it affordable in perpetuity. After doing credit checks and financial analysis, Habitat insures their zero-interest loan, insurance and property tax costs are no more than 30% of the buyer’s income. As a result monthly payments are significantly lower than they would be for the same home in today’s market.
Lori can’t put into words what it means to own her home. She says, “I know the house will stay with Habitat whenever I sell it and I don’t mind the restrictions at all. It will benefit the new partner, which is fantastic. It’s been the opportunity of a lifetime.”
Mary Close Oppenheimer is a local artist who has been part of the Lakeville/Salisbury community for 30 years.