NORTHAMPTON – A scramble to find handicapped-accessible housing for the city’s first refugee family has come to an end for at least a year thanks to a prominent local developer who will open the doors to one of his new condominiums at Village Hill Northampton this month.
Wright Builders, a local construction firm known for its sustainable building practices, will allow the Iraqi family from Baghdad to live for a year in the first-floor model condo at the company’s posh Upper Ridge development.
The family is currently living in temporary housing after it was discovered shortly before their Feb. 17 arrival that 56-year-old Jasimiyah Hussein uses a wheelchair after suffering from polio back home.
Wright Builders founder Jonathan Wright said he knows the Northampton housing landscape well, so it was concerning to hear that Catholic Charities, the reception and placement agency helping to resettle refugees in Northampton, still hadn’t found permanent housing for Hussein and her two sons, Yousuf Al-Dulaimi, 26, and, Ayoob Al-Dulaimi, 20.
“You mean in March you want a handicap-accessible building?” he said at the time. “There aren’t any!”
That is, except for his firm’s unit, which was being finished as a model for potential buyers.
“We talked about it at our company, because this would be sold this year,” Wright said.
Catholic Charities will pay a stipend of $825 a month for the family’s housing — far less than the normal market-rate monthly rent for the condo, which Wright said is around $2,200.
But in the end, he said the financial “inconvenience” of not immediately selling the flat amounts to little more than a “first-world problem.”
“As a larger community of Northampton and the state of Massachusetts, this is something as people we’ve decided to do,” he said of accepting refugee families. “This is a good thing.”
The building still had that new carpet-and-paint smell when Wright gave the Gazette a tour Friday afternoon. Wright insisted the smell wasn’t the usual toxic new-house odor, as his company designs green-certified buildings.
The two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo — priced at $529,000 — has wooden floors, stone countertops, an outdoor patio and a den off the living room, where Wright said some residents put a piano, or make into a work space. The family’s soon-to-be neighbors will be taking care of the $485 monthly maintenance fee.
“You don’t see that kind of extraordinary giving,” said Kathryn Buckley-Brawner, the executive director of Catholic Charities in Springfield. “It’s just really amazing to see that kind of outpouring of compassion.”
Buckley-Brawner was with the family when they looked over the condo’s floor plans, talking in anticipation about where things would go when they move in.
“They poured over the plans and were very much talkative and excited about the prospect,” Buckley-Brawner said.
For some neighbors, that excitement is mutual.
“I think it’s great,” said Rev. Todd Weir of First Churches of Northampton, who lives down the street from the family’s future home. “Our neighborhood, our whole community is looking for any way they can help.”
He said the announcement that the refugees were moving in went out over the neighborhood’s email list, and that everyone seemed eager to meet their new neighbors.
“I’m sure people will be very welcoming and accommodating,” he said.
After the one-year arrangement ends, Wright plan to sell the condo. By then, Wright anticipates family will have found employment.
“This is a great jumping off point,” he said.
Hussein and her sons spent more than two years in a refugee camp in Turkey before arriving in the Valley as part of a contingent of 51 refugees that Catholic Charities intended to resettle before President Donald Trump’s administration left those plans in uncertain territory.
Wright said the condo will be ready for the family on March 17.
Dusty Christensen can be reached at email@example.com