By Courtney Dentch
“This is amazing,” said Manny St. Louis as he surveyed the site last Thursday. “We've been looking for a house for over six years, but every time we got to a level where we said we were ready, the prices of houses rose.”
The St. Louis family, who live in Queens Village now, were the guests of honor last Thursday as Habitat for Humanity broke ground on the site of their future home at 110th Avenue and Union Hall Street.
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit housing organization that builds homes for families at costs well below market value, provided the future homeowners meet household income eligibility requirements – roughly between $31,000 and $50,000 – and agree to work 600 hours “sweat equity,” said Richard Wong, director of community partnerships for the group. Families can work to build their own house or help Habitat in other ways, such as in the office, if they cannot do the physical labor.
The house to be built for the St. Louis family is one of six planned for the area, Wong said. Two attached homes will be built on the 110th Avenue site, another two were slated for a Union Hall Street location and two others will be erected on 170th Street, he said. The houses will add to the 18 homes Habitat has built in the Jamaica area.
Habitat bought the empty lots from the city for $1 and when the houses are complete, it will sell them to the St. Louis family and others for $130,000 each, Wong said. The family will have mortgage payments, but there is no downpayment on the home and the mortgage does not carry interest charges, he said.
“Nowhere in Brooklyn or Queens or anywhere can you find a one-family home for $130,000,” said Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica), who attended the groundbreaking. “And there's no downpayment and no interest on the mortgage. We need more affordable programs like Habitat for Humanity.”
Manny and Nancy St. Louis have four children – two boys and two girls – from ages 2 to 9 and are expecting baby Joshua this month. The family lives in a cramped basement apartment in Queens Village that they have long outgrown, one Habitat worker said.
“They're living in Nancy's sister's house in a basement apartment,” he said. “They've made a makeshift two-bedroom and the four kids are squeezed into the two beds of a bunk-bed.”
The family has been searching for a house for more than six years, but the skyrocketing costs of houses have prevented the St. Louis' from finding a home, Manny St. Louis said.
“A family with children has a very difficult time even renting an apartment,” said Borough President Helen Marshall, who donated $40,000 toward the project. “It's difficult to get two incomes out of that family because someone has to take care of the children.”
Manny St. Louis drives trucks for Kennedy Airport-based Cavalier, and he is also going to school for his bachelor's degree in psychology, he said. He and Nancy hope to use his degree to work with young people, particularly in their church, he said.
And the family is excited to get to work on their house, he said. The children even wielded shovels for the groundbreaking.
“Hey, you started your house,” Marshall told 9-year-old Emmanuel Jr.
Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.