HELENA — A strong and stable home begins with a foundation, and Helena Area Habitat for Humanity hopes that a new project to build four new affordable homes will be a foundation for a strong and stable community.
“Especially with home prices skyrocketing as much as they have, it’s been nice to see families get in homes that they can afford and actually have the stability of a homeownership,” said Kacie Tollefson, Habitat’s board treasurer.
On Thursday, a construction site in the Red Fox Meadows subdivision was buzzing with activity, as Habitat launched one of its most ambitious projects. The Home Builders’ Blitz will put up four homes in just ten days.
On Thursday morning, volunteers began by putting up walls. By the end of the day, they expected to have roof trusses in place.
Habitat has been planning the project for about a year. Leaders expect 450 volunteers to work at the site, providing more than 10,000 hours’ worth of labor. For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they will be hosting large groups of volunteers on their jobsites.
“Our sites have been pretty barren over the last year,” said executive director Jacob Kuntz.
Roy Zaborowski is president of Blitz Home Builders, a team of experienced volunteers from around the country who are providing major assistance on the project. He says this type of rapid construction is great for new volunteers.
“They can come out here and, in a day, you can see the kind of progress you can make – whereas on a normal build, you might not get to this point for two or three weeks, depending on the locality,” he said. “It gives an immediate feedback to our volunteers that they’re able to accomplish something significant in a short period of time.”
Over the last two decades, Blitz Home Builders has constructed about 75 affordable homes across the U.S. Zaborowski says this will be Blitz Home Builders’ largest team yet, with more than 100 people signing up to take part. Some have come from as far away as Massachusetts and Georgia.
“The idea is to work everywhere that we can,” said Zaborowski. “The need for housing, we just cannot stress enough. Low-cost, affordable decent housing is a necessity in every community.”
As with any other Habitat project, the families who will eventually own the homes are doing a lot of work themselves. Heather Bomar is set to move in with her four children, and Kaila Matteson will share a home with her two boys. In recent days, they’ve been helping get the sites ready before the other builders arrived.
“To see everyone here and it actually happening – today I’ve helped a little, but I’ve also been in awe and crying,” Matteson said. “I’m trying to take it all in.”
“It’s truly amazing that there are so many people out there to help families like mine,” said Bomar.
Prospective Habitat homeowners have to go through an extended process before receiving a home, including getting financial counseling and improving their credit. Both Matteson and Bomar first applied several years ago.
“Owning a home has been a goal for a really long time, and just to provide a stable, long-term home for our families and for our kiddos is so important,” said Matteson.
By the end of this year, Helena Area Habitat for Humanity will have completed 12 houses – up from one every other year just a few years ago. Kuntz says the organization has been trying to increase its capacity to meet the ever-growing need for affordable housing in the area, but there’s still a long way to go.
“We want to be building 30 houses every year, so we’re building capacity as an organization to be able to do that, because I currently have 200 families on a wait list constituting over 600 people from the Helena area who struggle to find housing,” he said. “We know that that list is much larger; over 50% of the population in Helena qualifies for our program.”
Kuntz said, for a while, they weren’t certain if these four homes would be completely finished by the end of the ten days. It’s been challenging to get some materials, but the last large item – cabinets – arrived at the site on Thursday morning. Now, they’re confident they’ll be ready Saturday, Sept. 25, for a celebration to dedicate the homes.
You can find more information about the Home Builders’ Blitz and watch a live video feed of the construction at Habitat’s website.