DOVER — Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity and its group of 13 volunteer heroes have been able to weather the COVID-19 storm since March 2020.
But now, CDHFH — like all other builders in Delaware — is struggling with markedly higher lumber, real estate and other construction costs, as the heat begins to rise.
Tim Bailey, executive director of CDHFH, said nobody could have planned for the double whammy his organization has faced over the past two years.
“I think the most interesting part of it is that all of it is entirely unpredictable,” Mr. Bailey said. “Through the pandemic itself, there were a lot of resources that were put together by the feds, by the local government, by the state, and so we were able to remain financially whole.
“But now, the challenges have really started, especially with the strain on construction. So the demand for real estate right now is higher than it’s ever been in this country and, because of that, there is an extreme strain on the supply chain.”
The result is that CDHFH and other Habitats across the country have had to slow down on building affordable housing for those willing to contribute “sweat equity” to the construction of their home.
Mr. Bailey said his organization has finished two homes in Dover so far this year and will have five others under construction by the end of 2021.
It promises to be a challenge.
“All of our subcontractors that do work for us are having a hard time getting material,” he said. “All of the lumber that we usually pay for has quadrupled in price.
“Real estate is going for 120% of what it normally does, so all those things make it very difficult for a housing nonprofit to operate. But because we are faithful and diligent, we still keep making forward progress.”
Warren Hughart of Townsend, one of CDHFH’s builders, said he’s never seen construction prices fluctuate so wildly in his life.
“It’s unbelievable what lumber is selling for right now,” he said. “There’s a shortage of truck drivers to deliver the lumber and mills to supply the lumber that is needed. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Overcoming the obstacles
Despite the tremendous challenges it has had to endure over the past two years, CDHFH helped Juagbe C. “J.J.” Johnson raise the first wall on her new home at 67 S. Queen St. on Wednesday.
“This is a big momentous occasion, being able to start this home this year in this environment,” Mr. Bailey said. “We have two more at the end of the block and then this one right next door we’ll be starting this year, so we’re very excited to be able to do those things.”
Ms. Johnson, who was born in Liberia, moved to the United States in 1999.
The home that she and her family are building with CDHFH will be the largest one the organization will have built in Dover. It will feature five bedrooms and will have 1,700 feet of living space. The house will accommodate seven.
“This is like a dream come true, and I’m so grateful to God for the opportunity to finally come and live the American dream as an immigrant coming from Africa,” Ms. Johnson said.
“We were chosen among the thousands of people that have applied to Habitat, and this also means that I’m going to be able to further my education and go back to school and become somebody more efficient to the community and America. I’m just overwhelmed at being chosen.”
Ms. Johnson couldn’t hold back tears when she spoke of what her new home will mean to her family.
“Owning a home means our children will be able to play in our own backyard,” she said. “Privacy, and have quality time, and save money for tomorrow. It will also allow us to live the American dream. Our life will be so much better.”
Donna Kiscaden, vice president and a board member of CDHFH, said it never gets old watching families work and achieve their dreams of homeownership.
“It’s amazing what happens in this community,” she said. “It’s just amazing what we do, and it’s sometimes overwhelming with how heartfelt it is. We’re thankful for the many organizations that help support Habitat and help us pay with some of these increased prices that we have been seeing.”
Despite all the problems the CDHFH has faced, Ms. Johnson is hoping that her home will be finished by the end of the year.
“By the grace of God almighty, I’m expected to move in before the end of this year, I hope,” she said. “I just can’t wait. I’m excited for our new life.
“Thanks to Central Delaware Habitat for making me smile again. Thank you to all the volunteer heroes. Thank you, Ms. Dani Santos (CDHFH director of homeowner services) for helping us achieve our dream. Thank you for the house that our children will call home.”