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By Sadef Ali Kully

Dozens of Habitat for Humanity and Delta Air Lines volunteers, a few carrying small luggage, gathered Wednesday on a rainy day to start work on restoring an abandoned home in Cambria Heights.

The derelict house, infested with termites, fell victim to foreclosure and then became a zombie home until a fire destroyed most of the property. The property was then handled by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development before being acquired by the New York City Housing Authority to become affordable housing.

Future homeowners are required to volunteer in the restoring of their homes. At the Cambria Heights house at 219th St, 53-year old carpenter Richard Thompson was ready to work on his future home.

“I found out about the program when I was looking for a home, but I did not have enough money for a down payment,” said Thompson, who currently lives in Brooklyn.

The program through Habitat for Humanity offers a 30-year fixed mortgage at a 2.0 percent rate with only a 1 percent down payment for a restored home.

Since 2007, Habitat for Humanity has teamed up with Delta Air Lines to rebuild almost 80 abandoned homes across the city and 13 more homes in Queens will be completed by the end of the year.

“This is our tenth home. We are already approved to do another 24 homes in Queens,” said Tracy Cramer, Habitat for Humanity vice president of development and communication, “Delta volunteers request the hardest projects. They are dedicated, they fly in and come straight from the airport from across the country to help out.”

It can take six months on average to rebuild a home.

“Right now, they are going to do demolition work, then structural damage will be replaced,” said Jack Montana, Habitat for Humanity’s director of construction,

Montana said most of these homes are abandoned and have become safe havens for squatters or criminals.

“Neighbors of these homes are always glad to see our trucks on the street,” he said. “ It affects them—the property value goes up.”

Cramer said qualified homeowners have not won the lottery.

“They have been doing the right things all along and work hard but need a little bit of help. And that is where we come in.”

At the end of each project, volunteers and the new homeowners have a dedication ceremony.

“We really strive to make a difference in the communities we serve. We get to make this house into a home,” said Matthew Wood, Delta Air Lines general manager for performance and planning in New York.

Thompson said he was excited about making cabinets for his first home, but “I am really looking forward to the garden. I love to plant vegetables and flowers.”

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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