Church members to build first Des Plaines Habitat for Humanity house
The first Habitat for Humanity home in Des Plaines will be built on a vacant lot where a rundown house, described as an eyesore by residents, was recently demolished.
Members of seven churches in the Northwest suburbs, known as the Spring of Life partnership, are taking the lead on the project. It will be their 14th new or rehabbed house since they started building together 20 years ago.
Most of their work of late has been restoring historic homes in Elgin, the center of operations for the Habitat for Humanity of Northern Fox Valley, one of eight Chicago-area affiliates of the international nonprofit organization.
The homebuilding boundaries of the Northern Fox Valley chapter extend as far east as Des Plaines, though it's rare for the organization to build in the area because of higher property taxes the new homeowners will have to pay, officials said.
But in this case, Habitat received the land at 1419 S. Cora St. in Des Plaines from JPMorgan Chase bank for free after years of foreclosure proceedings.
Members of the Spring of Life Partnership -- which includes three churches in Arlington Heights, three in Palatine and one in Inverness -- typically build or rehab one house every year for Habitat. The group recently agreed to take on the Des Plaines project, which could begin as soon as September.
Plans call for construction of a one-story bungalow with basement. It will sit on a 10,800-square-foot lot -- one of the bigger properties in the residential neighborhood north of Oakton Street and east of Lee Street.
"Our group is delighted we're going in the other direction this time, since we're all from Palatine and Arlington Heights," said Lee Kingdon, a group leader who is a member of All Saints Lutheran Church in Palatine.
Habitat's Northern Fox Valley chapter has four church partnerships that regularly provide the volunteer construction crews and raise funds to pay for construction materials.
Spring of Life has a dozen volunteers in its "core group," made up of mostly retired men in their 60s and 70s -- some who spent years in the construction trades, and others who are just really good at home improvement projects, Kingdon said.
They handle everything from putting up two-by-fours and installing windows to painting and landscaping. The more complex work -- such as electrical, plumbing, roofing -- requires professional contractors.
The churches rely on nearly 100 volunteers who have varying levels of experience to provide labor for the project. Newbies work under the direction of the more experienced members of the crew, Kingdon said.
Habitat also provides a construction manager.
"There's a lot of camaraderie and a lot of joking, but it's also a lot of hard work," she said.
Those who will be working on the Des Plaines home are inviting people who would like to volunteer with them to sign up at habitatnfv.org.
The future homeowners will also be working alongside the volunteers -- part of Habitat's requirement that they put in a minimum of 250 "sweat equity" hours.
"One of the things at the core of Habitat is the reflection of the frontier spirit of people helping people," said Bill Klaves, associate director of Habitat's Northern Fox Valley chapter. "We hope people in the community will give a helping hand. These people will be their neighbors."
Habitat will sell the house to the new owners at its appraised value, financed through a 30-year, no-interest loan, Klaves said.
Neighbors who live near the now-vacant property on Cora say they were relieved when the two-story dwelling -- an old farmhouse that had been added onto and divided into apartments -- was demolished in April. The building fell into disrepair after its owners left in 2009 in the midst of foreclosure.
Raccoons and other critters inhabited the building, tearing apart walls and ceilings. Mold grew inside and out.
"You could actually smell it in our backyards," said Carl Loewes, who has lived next door since 2000.
He installed a new fence and planted bushes at his property line to try to put the neighboring property out of sight.
The city slapped the bank with fines for code violations and sought to have the house demolished -- short of taking any formal legal action.
But the bank may have been trying to rehab the structure in hopes of selling it, at one time bringing in a crew to install a new hot water heater, said Tina Mullett, the city's code enforcement and permitting coordinator.
Mullett said the local property maintenance company hired by the bank may not have been giving the bank "the straight scoop" about the dire condition of the house.
Eventually, the bank agreed to raze the house and donate the land. New sod was laid, and samples for soil tests were taken last month in preparation for the start of construction.
Officials estimate it could take nine months to a year to build the new house.