Editorial: Monday mix on Habitat for Humanity; Project Coach; women in construction

  • Teen coach Tyla Gervais, 15, of Baystate Academy Charter Public School, left, is comforted Feb. 9, 2018 by mentor Emma Carlisle-Reske, 24, a Smith College exercise and sports studies graduate student, at the close of a Project Coach basketball session at German Gerena Community Magnet School in Springfield.

Published: 2/25/2018 11:18:45 PM

We commend Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity for thinking smaller in its next construction project aimed at a first-time homebuyer who is a minimum-wage earner.

Pioneer Valley Habitat is accepting applications through April 17 for a one-bedroom house it plans to build in Florence with a sale price of no more than $120,000. People annually earning between $22,000 and up to 60 percent of the area median income ($33,600 for one person and $38,400 for a couple) are eligible to apply. A first-time homebuyer is anyone who has not owned a home in the past three years.

“A lot of homes being built these days are larger and more expensive because land owners need to make a profit,” says Megan McDonough, executive director of Pioneer Valley Habitat. “It takes community investment to do something that was common 50 years ago, like the idea of a starter home, but really just isn’t being done any more.”

McDonough adds, “We wanted to see the simplest, most affordable home option we could create. We asked ourselves, ‘What is the lowest income we could work with to help someone afford their dream of home ownership?’”

The local chapter is affiliated with Habitat for Humanity International, which partners with community groups to build affordable homes around the world. Since 1989, Pioneer Valley Habitat has built single-family homes and duplexes for 35 families in Northampton, Amherst, Easthampton and several Franklin County communities.

Construction is expected to begin this summer on the house in Florence, the “smallest, simplest home specifically for minimum-wage earners” built by Pioneer Valley Habitat. The final sale price and mortgage terms will be no more than 30 percent of the buyer’s income.

The buyer must be willing to put in 200 hours of “sweat equity,” with about half spent on helping to build the house, and the rest for first-time homebuyer classes, educational opportunities and working with other Habitat volunteers.

Information sessions for prospective buyers will be held at 10:30 a.m. March 10 at the Forbes Library, 20 West St., Northampton; 6 p.m. March 23 at the Greenfield Savings Bank, 325A King St., Northampton; and 6 p.m. April 3 at Lilly Library, 19 Meadow St., Florence.

Applications are available online at www.pvhabitat.org, as well as at the Forbes Library, Northampton City Hall and Pioneer Valley Habitat’s office at 140 Pine St. in Florence.

* * *

Smith College is making a smart investment in future leaders with Project Coach, which uses sports to connect with and empower youths in the Springfield area.

The program matches elementary school students from Springfield with teenage coaches. One Friday night this month, the teens were leading the younger children in basketball drills at German Gerena Community Magnet School in Springfield.

The high school students get weekly academic coaching at the college in Northampton, and also participate in a coaching and life-skills seminar with Smith students and faculty who help develop their leadership skills.

Project Coach director Jo Glading-Dilorenzo says of the teens, “They are building identity as athletes — kids who belong to a team that is about something more than just themselves.”

Tyla Gervais, a 15-year-old student at Baystate Academy Charter Public School in Springfield, puts it this way: “I feel like it makes me more responsible, more vocal.”

It’s a winning program for the teens who are mentored at Smith and then become mentors themselves as they coach younger children.

* * *

The topic of a Feb. 15 forum at Smith College was how to get more women into the male-dominated construction trades. Women today represent only about 3 percent of the construction workforce.

Panelists stressed the need to recruit more women through company hiring goals and mentoring programs, by not tolerating any sexual harassment or discrimination on the job, and raising awareness that women perform well in construction trades.

“Some of the best-paid jobs open in the blue-collar sector are in construction,” says Carrie Baker, director of the Study of Women and Gender program at Smith. “They have a good living wage, health benefits, and provide on-the-job training, but they have historically only benefited white men.”

Smith has set an example with a hiring goal of 7 percent women and 16 percent racial minority workforce for its $100 million Neilson Library renovation project.

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