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HABITAT FOR HUMANITY BRINGS PEOPLE HOME

The huge white tent erected in front of 29 Grey St. Sunday was temporary, but the two new houses under construction on the block are intended to provide permanent homeownership for two families owing a debt of gratitude to Habitat for Humanity.

Dozens of volunteers from the nonprofit ecumenical Christian housing group, as well as representatives from the companies and churches that help underwrite the cost of constructing Habitat homes, huddled under the tent Sunday. They prayed and sang hymns in observance of the International Day of Prayer and Action for Human Habitat and -- more significantly -- Habitat for Humanity Buffalo's 15th anniversary.

Habitat for Humanity International, founded in 1976, is dedicated to ending poverty in housing worldwide. The Buffalo chapter became affiliated with the international organization in 1985.

"In the first eight years we built 25 houses," said Ronald G. Talboys, president of Habitat Buffalo. "In the next four years we added 25 more, and in the last two years we added 25 more to that total, so you can see things are accelerating."

The celebration Sunday highlighted three Habitat homes under construction at 29 and 33 Grey St. off Broadway, and a house at 555 Sycamore St. Tours of the 1,200-square-foot, one-story houses were offered. The new houses join 18 other Habitat homes constructed in the neighborhood over the past decade.

Both Lisa Byrd, who will occupy 33 Grey St., and Yolanda Gatewood, who will be the owner of 29 Grey St., were overcome with emotion during the ceremony as they thanked the volunteers. Rueben and Louise Adamson will be the resident owners of 555 Sycamore.

The construction cost was underwritten by the Buffalo Bills, Choice One Communications, 84 Lumber, Nationwide Insurance and St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Orchard Park.

Habitat homes are built under trained supervision by volunteers and the prospective homeowners, who must provide at least 500 hours of "sweat equity." They can work on their own homes or others being built by Habitat or volunteer for a variety of other nonconstruction support tasks. The houses are sold at no profit, with no interest charged on the mortgage, so the proceeds go to help underwrite the construction of future homes.

Students from the University at Buffalo School of Architecture were recruited to provide volunteer labor on the construction of the new homes on Grey and Sycamore streets.

"This has been one of the most rewarding opportunities for me," said Lisa Acierno, a second-year student in UB's School of Architecture program. "I have learned a tremendous amount and enjoyed the process even more than I thought I would.

Constance Rogers, who has been the resident owner of her Habitat home on Sycamore Street for 2 years and 5 months, is thrilled by positive changes the new houses have brought to the neighborhood.

"They also encourage (existing homeowners) to fix up their houses, which is making the neighborhood look better all the time," she said.

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