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Habitat for Humanity is having banner year in Westmoreland after decade of struggling

Jacob Tierney
| Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Norwin senior Davina Broker works with Habitat for Humanity to gut the interior of at a house along Jefferson Avenue in Greensburg on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Norwin senior Davina Broker works with Habitat for Humanity to gut the interior of at a house along Jefferson Avenue in Greensburg on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.
Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity is renovating two Greensburg homes on Jefferson Avenue.
Jacob Tierney | Tribune-Review
Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity is renovating two Greensburg homes on Jefferson Avenue.
Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity volunteers Diana Bossart (center) shares a laugh with Kimmy Scholl (left) while they paint a room with fellow Mattress Firm employees Sherry Sabatino (from left), Casey Cunningham and Joe Orris at a home located in the 700 block of  Fort Pitt Street on Friday, May 13, 2016, in Jeannette.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity volunteers Diana Bossart (center) shares a laugh with Kimmy Scholl (left) while they paint a room with fellow Mattress Firm employees Sherry Sabatino (from left), Casey Cunningham and Joe Orris at a home located in the 700 block of Fort Pitt Street on Friday, May 13, 2016, in Jeannette.

Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity is looking for new ways to expand its mission.

Major renovations on two Greensburg homes are nearing completion, and the organization is in the midst of a series of smaller projects to help low-income homeowners.

“We're ramping up, bigger and better,” Executive Director Daniel Giovannelli said. “We went from about an $80,000 budget to a $410,000 budget in three years. We've served more families this year than we have in the last 10.”

Habitat for Humanity restores houses and provides them to low-income families through subsidized mortgages.

The Central Westmoreland branch was founded in 1993. From 1996 to 2004, it renovated a house almost every year. Things slowed after 2004, with four projects completed from 2005 through 2016.

Progress stalled almost completely in 2013, when the organization lost the lease to its Norwin Hills ReStore facility, meaning the nonprofit meant to help people find homes had become homeless itself. Two house renovation projects in Jeannette ground to a near-standstill.

“We decided that as an organization we either needed to move ahead, or we had to quit, and we decided to move ahead. And in doing so, we brought new people onto the board,” board President Chuck Quiggle said.

Activity picked up in 2015, when the group opened a new ReStore location in Hempfield, but it took a while to pick up steam.

The two homes in Jeannette were finished. Two more projects started in Greensburg late last year.

There have been difficulties along the way, Giovannelli said.

It once appeared that the Greensburg homes would be done in time for Thanksgiving, but they needed more extensive repairs than workers initially realized, he said.

Almost everything inside one house needed to be torn out — all that remains is the exterior walls.

“The more we dug, the more we found, which is the way it goes sometimes,” Giovannelli said.

He still hopes one house will be done by Christmas. The other might slip into next year, he said.

Meanwhile, Habitat for Humanity has started supplementing these major endeavours with a slate of smaller projects, funded by a grant from the Community Foundation.

Volunteers built a wheelchair ramp at a house in Crabtree and made minor repairs to other homes throughout the county. Two roof repairs are under way.

Smaller projects allow the organization to fulfill its mission of keeping people in their homes, Giovannelli said.

“In a couple days, or a few weekends, we can make a big difference in someone's life,” he said.

The organization is in talks with First Commonwealth Bank, hoping to work out a deal for the bank to buy some mortgages maintained by Habitat for Humanity.

When families move into a home that has been renovated by Habitat for Humanity, they purchase it from the organization, paying it off through a reduced-rate mortgage. This allows the organization to recoup money spent on renovations over the course of about 30 years.

“A classic problem for Habitats is that we're asset-rich but cash-poor,” Giovannelli said.

If a bank buys the mortgage, there would be no difference in the rate paid by the homeowner, but it would provide a major influx of cash for the nonprofit, he said.

Central Westmoreland Habitat for Humanity is seeking applications for those who want to live in renovated homes. It also is accepting applications from homeowners who need repairs made, though the slate of pending repairs is most likely to run through 2017, Giovannelli said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, jtierney@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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