Habitat for Humanity seeks permits to build N. Franklin homes

August 13, 2014
Shown are the lots on West Palm Street in North Franklin Township where Washington County Habitat for Humanity wants to build two houses. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Washington County Habitat for Humanity is applying for building permits to construct two houses in North Franklin Township on donated lots in an area where some residents apparently don’t want its clients for neighbors.

The charitable organization’s applications for the two houses on West Palm Street, once received, will be given to the township’s building inspector to make sure the plans are complete before the permits are issued, possibly within a week.

“We’re happy to move forward with the project,” said Mark Twyford, the group’s executive director.

A group of North Franklin homeowners’ names appear on a letter dated Aug. 7 and given to the township expressing a wide range of concerns about the project, including fears their property values will decline because of the housing.

The letter drafted by neighbor Layton Wise suggested Habitat for Humanity find property elsewhere, “to another more suitable location.” The letter also mentions that a woman approved to purchase one of the homes has two children and is not married.

Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization that strives to provide safe and affordable housing to families meeting certain income guidelines. An applicant for an interest-free mortgage must be employed, have a savings account and spend 300 hours or more helping the charity on construction projects.

Silvio Passalacqua, chairman of the township board of supervisors, on Tuesday questioned “the underlying issue” the homeowners are concerned about, and he pointed to the intent on mentioning the single mother in the letter.

“It’s not the size of the lot, but who is going to move in here,” Passalacqua said at a Tuesday supervisors’ meeting. He said the underlying concerns suggest Habitat for Humanity sells its homes to “low-class people.”

Wise replied by saying the letter is reporting what transpired at meetings.

“Habitat has done a lot of good across the country,” township solicitor Gary L. Sweat said.

Sweat said the lots on West Palm Street are in an area that permits construction of single-family dwellings.

The only thing Habitat needs to do to receive the building permits is comply with such requirements as lot sizes and setback distances from the road, Sweat said.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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