By Tammy Daniels
03:59AM / Monday, July 15, 2019
The two houses to be built on the land will be similar and style and were designed by architect Dana Bixby of Stockbridge.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Meghan Gleason didn't think she had a chance at a house.
She got the application to apply for a Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity house only three days before it was due. But she got some extra time to complete all the necessary paperwork.
"And then all of a sudden, we had a home interview, and then all of a sudden, we had a second interview," an elated Gleason said. "And then I had a break at work and got a phone call and they said, 'Hey, we want to offer you this house in Williamstown,' and it was just unreal. Unreal."
That house came closer to reality on Sunday afternoon when Gleason and Neil DeCarolis broke ground on a new home for their family with some two dozen friends and officials in attendance.
They and their four boys - Cameron, Caleb, Christian and Connor - hope to move in about a year from now.
Habitat for Humanity aids first-time homeowners willing to put some elbow grease into building or renovating houses alongside volunteers and professionals. In this case, it's a joint project with the town's Affordable Housing Trust proving the land.
It's been a long process to get to this point, including gaining state approval under Chapter 40B to build what will be two homes on the property at the corner of Cole Avenue and Maple Street. It took time for the state Department of Housing and Community Development to sign off on the project because it will be two separate buildings on nonconforming lots.
"About two years ago, we started out with a very small number of conversations with the Affordable Housing Trust," said Paul Austin, building project manager for Habitat. "And eventually we kind of came to the idea that maybe Habitat could build these houses that they were interested in for affordable housing."
The trust was created in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene as the flooding forced the closure of the Spruces Mobile Home Park and brought the town's lack of affordable housing into stark relief.
The Cole Avenue lots and another off Summer Street were purchased with the intention of using them for affordable housing and Habitat was selected as the developer from a request for proposals issued in 2017.
"We've tried to engage the community here, the neighbors, to make sure that what's done here feels right and make sense for the neighborhood," said Thomas Sheldon, chairman of the trust. "I just want you to know that the neighbors here have been constructive in their questions. They have been thoughtful, and they have been interested. And once Habitat and we as a trust have moved on, this would be a welcome neighborhood for people to move into. And that's important to both organizations."
Several neighbors were in attendance and introduced themselves to the couple. Members of Habitat and the trust, as well as Select Board members and members of First Congregational Church of North Adams, where Gleason sings in the choir, also attended.
The Rev. Carolyn Peck, pastor of First Congregational, offered a prayer for the work ahead.
"We thank you for everyone here who is making this opportunity possible for them as well as all the willing and hard-working individuals and volunteers will be involved in the months ahead to help make this family's dream come true," she said. "We especially thank you for the ministry of Habitat for Humanity, not only here in the groundbreaking and building of this new home, but for every home they built around this county in this state and around the country and world."
Austin and Sheldon also thanked a number of people who helped bring the project to fruition, including the late Richard DeMayo, who Sheldon described as having "encyclopedic knowledge of properties in town" that proved invaluable in the search for buildable lots.
DeCarolis and Gleason turned over the first sod — though not easily — and officials and board members took turns at the shovels as well. Gleason posed with a large sign with the date and plans to continue that practice to mark the project's progress.
The owners of the home on the abutting lot will be chosen once this one near completion, with the Summer Street project following after that.
"It's a joyous occasion when we can create new housing that is affordable and accessible, and responsive to the needs and in the process helps to diversify the housing stock in this town," Sheldon said. "It's just delightful that we're providing that now and into the future as well."