A Home for Humanity

A Home for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity breaks ground on 50th house in Northern Virginia.

When mathematics professor Richard Semmler first got involved with Habitat for Humanity in 1996, the group had just finished building its seventh house in Northern Virginia.

Eight years and 40 houses later, Semmler is still volunteering for the Northern Virginia branch of Habitat for Humanity, this time pushing the community to join him in fund-raising efforts to build more houses in Northern Virginia.

"I just feel that Habitat is a wonderful charity for families," said the Northern Virginia Community College professor, who plans to volunteer this fall for Habitat houses that will be constructed in Fairfax.

Semmler was one of several Habitat volunteers present at a June 24 ceremony marking the construction of Habitat's 50th house in Northern Virginia. It will be built in the Briarwood Trace community, a new development located off Nutley Street in Fairfax and across from the Vienna/Fairfax Metrorail station.

Yet to Habitat, the 50th house is also special because it will be one of four houses built as a result of a public-private partnership.

The four houses will be the first single-family detached homes in Fairfax County that are also affordable dwelling units.

"This opportunity presented itself out of the blue," said Craig Havenner, president of the Fairfax City-based Christopher Cos. "We all want to get out here and roll up our sleeves."

According to Havenner, the idea to partner with Habitat for Humanity to build affordable dwelling units came from Tom Jordan, a fellow builder and developer. Havenner became interested in the idea and has been working with Habitat for more than a year on that possibility.

As a result, the partnership will be the construction of three houses and the renovation of a fourth house. The three new homes will begin construction in 2004 and finish in spring 2005. In summer 2005, an existing house will be renovated, to be completed by the summer of 2006.

EACH HOUSE will be a four-bedroom unit sold to qualified, low-income, Fairfax County households with no-interest mortgages and a small down payment. To qualify for one of the homes, a family must have an income between $20,000 and $40,000, or 20 to 50 percent of the Washington area's median income of $85,000.

If a family is selected for the home, family members must complete 300 to 500 hours of "sweat equity," meaning they must help build the house they will live in.

The houses themselves will be constructed with similar material used for the development's other houses.

"They're really going to blend into the area well," Havenner said.

Each of the houses will also be constructed with the help of community volunteers. Semmler will underwrite much of the cost for the 50th house, while the Reston Hospital Center, Sallie Mae, the Vienna Church Coalition for Housing and the Vienna Rotary will help construct the other homes, through both funds and labor.

"The idea came from the neighborhood," said Supervisor Linda Smyth (D-Providence), speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony about the neighborhood's involvement to have single-family affordable housing at the development. "This is what we need to do — involve our communities in this neighborhood."