Celebrating old and new

HOUGHTON It was a banner day for two local families and Copper Country Habitat for Humanity Saturday. At 11:30 a.m., the group helped Steve Fish burn the mortgage for the South Range home he’s paid off since Habitat helped him build it in 1997, and at 12:30 p.m., Habitat broke ground on this summer’s building project, a new home in Houghton for Christina Lantto and her four children.

“It was a godsend,” Fish said of Habitat’s help getting him into his own home. “Now the boys have a place to come home to,” he added, referring to sons Andy and Matt, who were teenagers when the Fish family moved into their home in 1997.

Lantto, who is a part-time Daily Mining Gazette employee, also thought immediately of her children: Tyler, 18; Ashley, 17; Brittany, 16; and Jordan, 10.

“It’s amazing for the kids,” she said, tearing up at the thought of a home for her family.

At the mortgage burning, longtime Habitat volunteer Chuck Harris recalled working on Fish’s home in 1997.

“We had to hand-dig the foundation because of wet subsoil,” he remembered. “The volunteers had shovels and wheelbarrows and got it done in a day.”

Not all memories, however, were equally sweet. The mortgage burning ceremony was dedicated to Fish’s wife, Donna, who died five years ago, and a helium balloon was released in her honor.

But for the most part, the mood was upbeat. Christy Hilgers, Copper Country Habitat president, noted that Fish was the first local Habitat client to pay off his mortgage with steady monthly payments, though others have done so with a lump sum.

“Ninety-eight percent of people don’t believe our folks pay a mortgage,” Hilgers said. Actually, she explained, the new homeowners take out a mortgage to pay for materials and for the services that need to be subcontracted, such as electrical work. Habitat, she said, helps by providing the majority of the labor, and by making the mortgage interest free to keep payments manageable.

Most families, she said, make steady payments on their mortgages, which are held by Habitat’s state office, and the payments are used to further future Habitat projects. Also, each adult family member is expected to put 200 hours of sweat equity into their project.

In Houghton, at the ground breaking, Volunteer coordinator Michelle Miller said Habitat for Humanity was still seeking individuals or groups to help build the Lantto home. There will be a blitz-build July 7 through 12, where Habitat will try to get the majority of basic construction completed. After that, build days will be Thursdays and Saturdays.

“There are a few groups signed up,” she said. “There are plenty more we can accommodate.”

Ron Gratz, a member of the building committee who worked on Fish’s home in ’97 and will be working on the Lantto home this year, said no experience is necessary.

“I’ve learned an awful lot about building I can use on my own home,” he said. “When I started I didn’t know the difference between a six-penny and a 16-penny nail.”

“I enjoy doing it,” he added. “It’s neat to see it go from a vacant lot to a home people are living real lives in,” he said. “It’s really satisfying, even more so when there are kids involved.”

Gratz said Habitat for Humanity was also seeking applicants and building lots for future projects.

According to Hilgers, help isn’t limited to building homes from scratch. Families can also apply for help with critical repairs, renovating old homes to make them livable, and help making homes handicapped accessible.

Lantto said she’s especially looking forward to the energy-efficiency designed into her new home, as the poor insulation in her current one has been costly.

“We feel very blessed, very thankful,” she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering to help build the Lantto home can email Miller at mhmiller@mtu.edu. For other information, or to learn about applying for help with a new or existing home, call 482-5376.