August 02, 2006
Habitat for Humanity Breaks New Ground
Westhampton Beach resident Gabriella Ortiz was desperate. A single mother of three small children, she was working two jobs and unable to make ends meet. Struggling to survive in the shadows of Hamptons mansions, Ortiz found herself facing life on the streets with her children.
"We went through very rough times because of our living situation," she said. "Nobody wanted to rent to me — they kept telling me I was a single mother and they just didn't want to take a chance. It was really, really hard."
With high housing costs making it impossible for her to climb out of her situation, Ortiz, who juggled her job as a rural carrier with housecleaning gigs, found herself begging an acquaintance for the chance to live with her kids in a basement. "I said: 'Please, we need somewhere to go. We can't live on the street.' And I didn't want to bring my children to a shelter!" She stayed for three months and eventually found a house to rent in a dangerous neighborhood in Riverhead.
"We got robbed the very first week. They took the TV, the kids' games," she said. "The third week, we were robbed again. There were prostitutes and drug dealers in the area, but it was the only place I could afford. We lived there for three years."
In 2001, Ortiz applied for the first-ever Habitat for Humanity house in Westhampton Beach.
A few weeks later, she got the call that would change her life forever. "Thinking I was going to be a homeowner was like a dream. But then I got the call — they picked me."
According to Gale Spaulding, Westhampton Presbyterian congregant and treasurer of the Greater Hamptons Interfaith Council, the Suffolk division of Habitat for Humanity, under the sponsorship of the GHIC, has plans to break ground on the third Habitat for Humanity house in Westhampton Beach, off Hazelwood in Avon Court, in the fall. The problem, she said, is there have been only two applicants — and with the family selection committee scheduled to meet soon, the goal is to get the word out to those who might be seeking an end to their housing plight. Preference will be given to WHB residents.
The GHIC worked with HFH to put another area resident, an emergency room worker, into the second HFH house last year — the homes are located side by side on Peter's Lane in Westhampton Beach.
Founded in 1976 by Millard Fuller and his wife, Linda, Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry that aims to eliminate poverty housing and homelessness.
Independent, locally run, nonprofit affiliates facilitate fund raising, building site selection, partner family selection and support, house construction and mortgage servicing.
Habitat homes are rehabilitated and sold to families at no profit and financed with affordable loans. Monthly mortgage payments are utilized toward building additional Habitat homes.
In addition to a low down payment and monthly mortgage payments, Habitat homeowners must put in 300 to 500 hours of "sweat equity," helping to build their home and the homes of others.
"We had to work every Saturday for a year," said Ortiz. "We worked everywhere, anywhere, in any type of weather conditions. We experienced really cold, cold days, frozen toes, frozen hands. But thinking about the house just kept me going."
Today, Ortiz's once intangible dream of home ownership has become a reality. Now married, she has a new son, Mario. "The kids are happier; they feel safer. Now, they have their own home."
Applicants interested in applying for the third home should call HFH Suffolk in Middle Island at (631) 924-4966.