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Editorial: A strong leader leaves Habitat for Humanity

Volunteers from Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity work on a house in Amherst Sunday that will eventually belong to Leslie Pinero.

JOSH KUCKENS Volunteers from Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity work on a house in Amherst Sunday that will eventually belong to Leslie Pinero.

With one in three American homeowners spending more than 30 percent of their annual income on housing, organizations like the Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity are necessary lifelines for those who are struggling financially. That’s why it is vital to find an able replacement when M.J. Adams-Pullan, the local chapter’s executive director, leaves her post next week.

Homes do more than protect you and your stuff: They’re significant assets that help provide financial security and stability for countless families. Consider these numbers from Habitat for Humanity’s international website:

e_SBlt Owning a home leads to a higher quality home environment, improved test scores for children — 9 percent in math and 7 percent in reading — and reduced behavioral problems by 3 percent.

e_SBlt Children who live in bad housing have lower educational attainment and a greater likelihood of being impoverished and unemployed as adults.

e_SBlt Owning a home, especially for lower-income households, is an important means of wealth accumulation. On average, low-income minority families who own a home accumulate an additional $1,712 per year, achieved through equity and forced savings due to mortgage repayment.

Adams-Pullan, 55, was the first employee of the previously volunteer-run organization that builds housing for qualifying low-income families. Now, Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity employs four staffers but still relies on volunteer to build homes, raise funds and run its board of directors.

Adams-Pullan accepted a new job as director of community development at the Franklin County Regional Housing and Redevelopment Authority. She starts Monday, one day after she will step down from her position at Pioneer Valley Habitat.

During Adams-Pullan’s 11-year tenure, Habitat for Humanity built 26 homes in western Massachusetts in communities including Amherst, Easthampton, Greenfield and Northampton. She fostered connections between Habitat and the community. The group has partnered with the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School and Franklin County Technical School so students learning about carpentry, plumbing and electrical systems can get experience building homes.

PV Squared, a Greenfield cooperative, also installs solar panels on all suitable Habitat homes at no cost, she said. And the Pioneer Valley chapter often coordinates with a newer chapter established at Amherst College in 2006 to build homes in Amherst.

Also under her watch, the types of homes the local Habitat chapter builds has changed. The group used to build mostly condos. Now, it constructs single-family homes or an unusual type of building called a zero-lot-line home. This sort of building functions as two separate homes that share a central wall, right on the property’s lot line.

As Adams-Pullan plans her exit, Habitat continues to work on getting projects off the ground in Amherst, Southampton and Sunderland. And current projects are moving forward, including one on Garfield Avenue in Florence, one on Belchertown Road in Amherst, two in Turners Falls and two in Easthampton on East and Everett streets.

Adams-Pullan’s leadership has benefited dozens of families directly and given many more volunteers an outlet to help others. We wish her well in her new endeavor and hope the next leader of Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity will maintain and create new community connections and show a similar dedication to helping Valley residents achieve the dream of owning their own home.

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