Maria Velez is far more comfortable with her strokes at the keyboard than with those of a hammer striking nails. Still, last winter she learned to put siding on a house—her own house, that she was helping to build herself.
On Friday afternoon that house was dedicated. This week, she and her family move in.
The Velezes and the family of Cesar Pallo and Marisol Baque were at the center of a festive dedication celebration that drew 50 people to the sunny front yards of 34 and 38 Vernon St., just off Davenport and in sight of Yale-New Haven Hospital.
There they and Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven marked the dedication of the two 1400-square-foot, three-bedroom, one-and-a-half bath, energy-efficient homes. They were built by the hands of some 90 Yale-New Haven Hospital (YNHH) volunteers and 400 hours of sweat-equity of the Velezes, the Pallo/Baques, and their families and friends.
Habitat staff selected the two families from a pool of 400 applicants to purchase the houses for approximately $95,000 each, with a zero percent mortgage payable in 25 years. (Click here for a story with more detail on the inauguration of the construction back in October.) The two houses are the 84th and 85th that Habitat has built in Greater New Haven since its inception 25 years ago, and the fourth and fifth sponsored chiefly by Yale-New Haven Hospital along with the volunteer skills of its staffers.
Velez is a secretary for 13 years with New Haven Legal Assistance Association, where she spends her days at the computer.
“I was [suddenly] nailing everywhere,” including at the southwest corner of the house, where the siding project got started back in February, she recalled.
She did fine, said Habitat construction supervisor Steve Tarasiewicz, although Velez was afraid of heights when it came to knocking in the siding on the second floor. She preferred to work inside, where Tarasiewicz reported her work on painting was meticulous, as befits a legal secretary. At the end of the ceremony he presented the two families each with a symbolic hammer, acknowledging their work on the construction and reminding them of upkeep to come.
The Velezes currently live in a small apartment in West Haven; 34 Vernon will be their first house. Father Miguel and son Briansaid they like the spacious basement, with high-tech “Ecobatt” insulation and a very efficient tankless gas-fired hot water heating system.
While Habitat construction projects have always been green, these features kick the eco up a notch. A $25,000 grant from the Nissan Corporation made these green features possible. Other green, recycled materials are on the kitchen counter tops and on the front porch decking, which is composed of recycled organic garbage that Tarasiewicz said will last 100 years.
YNHH President and Chief Operating Officer Richard D’Aquila said the hospital is committed to sponsoring two Habitat houses a year. “Together Habitat and YNHH intend to revitalize Vernon Street,” he said.
Next in that program is the razing of 36 Vernon, a currently boarded up structure that sits between the two dedicated on Friday. Habitat recently purchased the blighted building. It will be razed, with construction, again sponsored by YNHH, beginning this summer.
It won’t be surprising if among the volunteers working on the siding of that house will be Maria Velez.