SHORELINE — The Sanchez family was overwhelmed as they stood in front of their future home on a recent cold morning, surrounded by new friends who will be helping to restore the 1830 historic house back to its original glory.
“I feel great,” said Edwin Sanchez. “I can’t wait until the house gets done. I’m so happy, I don’t know what to say.”
A Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven build with sponsorship and volunteers from Raise the Roof, the Shoreline Habitat connection, the once abandoned house at 387 Lenox St., New Haven, will be restored with guidance from Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office, New Haven Preservation Trust and Connecticut Preservation Trust.
Over the last 14 years, Madison-based Raise the Roof has raised over $700,000 and worked alongside Habitat families to build 13 other new homes in New Haven.
While precision and accuracy are hallmarks of historic preservation, there will be one addition to this house that will make it extra special, an addition that requires Sharpie markers rather than hammers and nails.
Messages of hope and encouragement have been written on sheetrock that will become a permanent part of the interior. These messages will be forever encased in the home’s walls.
“We hope that you’ll remember that they are built into the heart of your home,” Donna Gregory, president of Raise the Roof, told the Sanchez family.
“We hope that you’ll know that they hold heartfelt wishes and messages from so many of us, to you,” said the Madison resident.
Originally built as the home of Merrit Brown, an oyster fishing captain, the vernacular Greek Revival-style house is at located in the Quinnipiac River Historic District and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The budgeted amount for the project is $200,000 to cover undonated materials and licensed contractor work, including plumbers and electricians. The bulk of the work will be done by volunteers.
“We have a vast supply of volunteers, but they have different skill levels,” said William Casey, executive director of Habitat for Humanity.
“We’re trying to show that you can do preservation and make it affordable at the same time,” he added.
Families are considered based on need, ability to repay their no-interest mortgage and willingness to become partners in the program. In addition, first time homeowners, Edwin Sanchez, along with his wife, Ada Irizarry and their son, Edwin, have committed to working 400 hours on the home.
“Raise the Roof is empowered to partner with Edwin and Ada on their journey to rebuild, restore, own and call this historic property their home,” said Gregory.
The house has been completely gutted and the siding removed after lead and asbestos abatement.
“We’ve got it down to the point now, where it’s safe and we’re ready to go,” said Casey. “We’re going to start building this thing from the ground up.
“We’re going to restore it to basically what it used to look like when it was originally built,” he added. “It will be along process, really extensive rehab.”
Madison architect Duo Dickinson, a volunteer on the project noted that, “In the retail world, this would be esily a $300,000 renovation.” Everything in the home, all the surfaces inside and out, all the mechanicals will be brand new, as the existing ones, he added, “they’re gone, they’re all shot.”
Construction Manager Antoine Claiborne is excited about the project.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do here, as everyone keeps saying,” he said, with a chuckle. “But, it should be a good home once we’re done with it.”
Dickinson talked about the positive work being done by Habitat.
“It creates homes for people that would just not be able to own homes, ever,” he said.
In addition, Dickinson added, “This community has been on the edge of survival for 40 years, actually saving itself and keeping itself viable.
“Habitat kind of parachutes into these specific places, so that’s a good and then there’s the other good of saving a building that would simply be gone, would simply be gone unless somebody could risk doing it without the ability to have to justify it to a bank,” he said.
It was at the urging of the City of New Haven that Habitat considered purchasing this particular piece of property.
“No one wanted to touch it,” said Casey. “Like Duo was saying, it’s so expensive to rehab this house, in this condition, that most people can’t make it work whether it’s your own home or you’re doing it on speculation to sell.”
After looking at the house, Casey said, Habitat determined the location and condition of the Merritt Brown house made it a perfect project.
“We take the one bad house in an otherwise good block and this is perfect,” he said. “This is a great block. This one house was a nightmare for everybody. The whole neighborhood and the city was up in arms about it. They couldn’t do anything about it. The bank owned it. It wasn’t maintained.”
Rose Bonito, who has lived across the street for the last 44 years, is very excited about the restoration.
“It looks great, the best it has in 12 ½ years,” she said. “We’re excited. This is a historic home. It joins the rest of the neighbors with being revitalized and having more life to it, again, and having a family come in, which is great.”