By Rich Bockmann
Former President Jimmy Carter is coming to southeast Queens and he’s bringing his hammer and saw with him.
The public face of Habitat for Humanity will roll up his sleeves in October to help the nonprofit kick off its campaign to renovate 38 single-family homes in the borough.
“So we’re really happy and proud to have him here,” said Paul Thabault, Habitat’s director of real estate. “He’s [going to be] 89 years old. I definitely don’t want to kill him, so we’re going to try to take it easy with the scope of work.”
Nearly 30 years after he and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, completed their first Habitat project on the Lower East Side in 1984, the 39th president will return to the city the week of Oct. 6 to help volunteers repair homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy in Staten Island and rehab a handful of vacant properties in southeast Queens.
Habitat bought 38 one- and two-bedroom homes in the borough from the New York City Housing Authority for $1 each when it divested a large portfolio of single-family residences it owned last year. In the 1970s and ’80s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found itself with a number of vacant properties when homeowners with federally underwritten mortgages defaulted on their loans.
The department transferred the homes to NYCHA to use for public housing, which the agency did for many years. Last year, the housing authority unloaded a large portfolio of these properties, selling many to the residents who had lived in them for years and the other vacant homes to Habitat.
“Some of them have been empty for a decade, so they’re really beat up,” Thabault said. “We went into these houses and we started to gut them, and again some were empty for so long there was asbestos in them. There was lead in them. We hired a professional to get all that out and now we’re in the process of kind of gutting them out the rest of the way completely. Our plan is to break them down to the bare shell of the house, make sure its structurally sound and then we’re going to rebuild it.”
“When we’re done rehabbing them, we’d like to get some folks from the community into those homes,” he added.
The Southern Queens Park Association will play host to the Carter work project at its headquarters in Roy Wilkins Park. Throughout the week, volunteers will work to rehab five homes in the area.
Habitat said it is putting an emphasis on placing local families who rent apartments into the homes, which will cost between $200,000 and $300,000.
A qualified family must earn between 50 percent and 80 percent of the area’s median income, and put in between 200 and 400 hours of volunteer time, or what the organization calls “sweat equity.”
And unlike a conventional mortgage, Habitat offers loans that require a 1 percent down payment with a 30-year interest rate fixed at 2 percent.
“Compared to having to pay 20 percent, and that’s around $60,000 or what not,” said Nica Bautista, one of Habitat’s homeowner associates. “That’s a really good deal.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.