As part of Fleet Week New York 2019, over a dozen U.S. Marines, U.S. Navy Sailors and U.S. Coast Guardsman on Thursday partnered with Habitat for Humanity New York City to build a home for a low-income first-time homebuyer in Jamaica.
Prepared to take on the day’s task at hand equipped with a hardhat and tools, the service men and women trickled into the construction site — located at 101-64 132 St. in Richmond Hill — of a recently demolished and former dilapidated home lifting, cutting, and measuring to build the initial framework of a new affordable home.
This is the sixth year in a row that sea service members participating in Fleet Week have partnered with Habitat NYC, a non-profit organization serving more than 700 families in the five boroughs through home construction and preservation.
“The Fleet Week Volunteer days are some of our most productive days. We love having the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guards come out and join us,” said Matthew Dunbar, vice president of External Affairs for Habitat for Humanity NYC. “The sea service members are amazing volunteers. They get so much done. They make our mission their mission this week and we’re thrilled to have them here this week.”
Homeownership is an important part of the housing continuum because it provides working families an avenue for stability and equity, while also serving as a bulwark against gentrification, according to Habitat NYC. In New York City, where the homeownership rate is half of the national average, there has been a startling drop in the number of homeowners, resulting in more than 124,000 New Yorkers, most of whom are from minority communities, into joining the increasingly unaffordable rental market.
The single-family home is one of 23 homes that Habitat NYC acquired through a partnership with the New York City Housing Authority, according to Dunbar.
“We did 13 homes in our first phase, and there are 20 in southeast Queens and three in Brooklyn in our second phase,” said Dunbar. “All of these houses were vacant and dilapidated between 10, 15 to 20 years. They were blights in the neighborhood and community, so we took control and bought each property for $1.”
At least 20 of the homes were gut-rehabilitated, Dunbar said, but since the current home needed to be town down, the sea service members will participate in building a brand new home to be purchased by a Habitat family in the fall.
The service members will be responsible for establishing the initial framing of interior and exterior walls, and trussing of the roof. For some, it’s their first time working with the organization, while other members have participated in the past helping to build homes in other cities.
“This is amazing. It’s kind of near and dear to my heart. I grew up in a rural area in Los Angeles, a low-income family that’s kind of my environment, so giving back any chance I get is awesome,” said U.S. Navy Sailor Archangel Smiley. “This is my second project. I did one with Habitat NYC in San Diego. Sometimes it’s the small things that you do that make a big impact. I believe in that and that’s something I carry within myself everyday.”
Originally from Alabama and stationed in Virginia, U.S. Coast Guard Kenneth Gage, said he looks forward to participating in another project in the future.
“Even though we’re not from the area, we’ll be making a big impact helping people that are less fortunate,” said Gage. “I’m excited and glad to be here for the first time to help.”