Habitat marks 30 years locally; hits new milestone

New homeowner Veronica Occeas gives an emotional speech with her Dad, Esau Occeas during the dedication ceremony for the 64th Habitat for Humanity home built in Wicomico County on Saturday. (Kristin Roberts photo)

There’s a touching scene in the classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when members of the Martini family celebrate their new home.

As the Martinis beam with pride, the home is consecrated with bread, salt and wine, so that joy and prosperity will reign.

Likewise, Salisbury’s Occeas family had their new home, at 315 Charles St. and acquired through Habitat for Humanity, blessed by their church pastor last week.

Keeping with Habitat tradition, the public was invited to attend the 64th home dedication and wish the new owners well as they join the neighborhood.

There were several speakers and church members provided gifts.

“It’s a very special time. All the volunteers and donors walk through the house and see the results of their time, talent and treasures,” said Habitat Executive Director Molly Hilligoss.

Esau Occeas is buying the three-bedroom, 1,193-square-foot home with his adult daughter, Veronica. The two, natives of Haiti, are caring for Esau’s 5-year-old nephew.

“We are very happy,”  Veronica Occeas told the Salisbury Independent.

Her father learned about Habitat for Humanity from friends and applied, she said, adding they were thrilled when they finally received the good news that they were approved. Habitat for Humanity provides financing at a zero percent interest rate for those who qualify, Hilligoss said.

Veronica, who works at Krispy Kreme, is studying at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Her father works at Mountaire Farms.

The family was living in crowded, substandard housing. Many applicants are in structures without adequate insulation, Hilligoss said.

The dwelling on Charles Street was donated by Earl Herwick, formerly the landlord. Its worth when donated was about $35,000. The Occeas family purchased it for its current value, $75,000, and have a 20-year mortgage.

Those who buy homes from Habitat pay no more than 25 percent of their income per month.

“This house  is a rehab. It was originally built in the 1920s or 1930s. We totally gutted it,” Hilligoss said.

Seven buyers are purchasing houses from now until the end of August, a record for a single year. Usually, one or two are sold every year, she said.

It’s fitting that Habitat for Humanity — formed nationally in 1976 with headquarters in Americus, Ga. — set a record, considering this is the local office’s 30th anniversary. It opened in 1987 and has since built 66 homes, completed dozens of neighborhood revitalization projects and is supporting to community gardens in the Church Street area.

Habitat owns 16 lots or houses in that neighborhood that will be developed or rehabilitated and sold to partner families.

Those interested in buying a home must apply and provide required documentation. Anyone who’d like to donate will receive half the appraised value in the form of a tax credit, Hilligoss said.

During its 30 years in Wicomico County, Habitat has had 10,000 volunteers and invested $7 million in the community.

In April, there was a celebratory anniversary luncheon. Congressman Andy Harris spoke and longtime Salisburian Carol Bosserman was recognized as one of the founding volunteers.

Adding to the organization’s success, the city of Salisbury agreed to place two trash bins near the intersection of Church and Naylor streets, in response to a request from Habitat “about trash being everywhere,” Hilligoss said.

Wrappers from snacks purchased at the convenience store in the area littered the ground, detracting from the neighborhood, she said.

Bins will be located in front of and behind the convenience store and emptied every Friday by city workers. City officials and Habitat employees will observe how the local community uses them during a 30-day trial period.

“We end up filling up dozens of bags on Community Cleanup Day, so the trash bin is really needed,” Hilligoss said.


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