Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Habitat for Humanity nabs volunteer partnership, plans affordable housing building spree.

Habitat for Humanity volunteers raise a house frame. (Creative Commons.)

Seven days, three houses, and 160 volunteers.

That sums up an upcoming building blitz by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Harrisburg, which plans to construct new affordable housing units with a sought-after volunteer corps in June.

Habitat for Humanity has won a competitive partnership with WoodsWork, a youth-led mission group from Maryland. The faith-based group partners with one Habitat for Humanity affiliate each year to assist on a large-scale building project.

This year, they decided to send their services to Harrisburg, where 160 teen volunteers will construct three affordable housing units on Swatara Street over the course of five work days. They’ll spend two additional days exploring the city.

The trained volunteers will arrive in Harrisburg in June with their own food and medical crew in tow.

“They’re essentially like an army,” said Yinka Adesubokan, executive director of Habitat for Humanity, at tonight’s City Council legislative session.

Habitat for Humanity is partnering with Tri-County Housing Development for the June project. The three housing units will be part of HDC’s Mount Pleasant development, which comprises 10 new houses in a blighted area near Swatara and N. 16th streets.

Tri-county HDC hopes to build three more homes after the June construction, bringing the total number of affordable units in the development to 16.

In addition to construction, volunteers will also assist local neighborhood groups with beautification projects.

The WoodsWork volunteers will stay at West Shore Christian Academy in Camp Hill and travel to their construction sites each day. HDC Director Gary Lenker explained that the nonprofits had to arrange accommodations for the WoodsWork volunteers. He said that schools in Harrisburg could not meet the needs of the volunteer corps, which include sleeping space, showers and a cafeteria.

Lenker said that the free labor provided by WoodsWork would generate significant cost savings for the local nonprofits. Tri-County HDC has previously paid as much as $160,000 per unit to construct the homes in its Mount Pleasant development, which all have four bedrooms and 3.5 baths.

By reducing the amount of paid labor, Lenker estimates that construction costs will clock in at just under $100,000 per unit—much closer to the homes’ selling price.

The teen volunteers will complete most of the construction on the new homes, but local volunteers will add mechanical components and interior finishes later in the summer, Lenker said.

The nonprofit leaders touted the fact that the projects will be completed without any financial assistance from the city. But they did have some requests of council and the administration, including street closures surrounding the work sites and security fencing to protect equipment left out overnight.

“It would also be nice not to have to pay for building permits,” Lenker said.

Leaders from Habitat and HDC will meet with city hall officials tomorrow to go over some of their requests.

In its legislative session tonight, council also approved a building project by Bethesda Mission, which plans to raze and rebuild its women’s shelter on 20th Street. The project is expected to double its capacity for its recovery programs.

Council also approved a grant agreement with PennDOT that will finance $1.5 million in repairs to the city’s crumbling river walk.

Council will reconvene for a work session on May 1 at 5:30 p.m. Councilmembers will hear a presentation from the Harrisburg Police Bureau about public safety issues, including speeding vehicles and pedestrian safety. The Public Works Department will also give a presentation about proposed revisions to the city’s sanitation ordinance.

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