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Team of women helps build record-breaking Morris Habitat dwellings

William Westhoven, Morristown Daily RecordPublished 2:38 p.m. ET March 3, 2020

ROXBURY — Springlike weather greeted more than two dozen women who joined other volunteers Tuesday morning for the first big build of 2020 by Morris Habitat for Humanity: a six-unit condominium of affordable homes for eligible families in Succasunna.

When finished, the building and a similar one completed in December will represent the largest construction project in the nonprofit organization's 35-year history.

"The building we're working on now is the second phase of a 12-unit project," said Morris Habitat CEO Blair Bravo, pointing to the completed Main Street unit next door. "We have six families in these homes. They're getting on with the business of living, and paying an affordable mortgage."

About 50 volunteers joined the build on Tuesday, about half of them women, some of them for the first time.

"Today we are part of the International Women Build Week, which is a program with Habitat International, Lowe's and 6,000 women around the country, in India and in Canada," Bravo said, referring to the home store chain. "We're building this week on about 550 homes in about 235 communities, to build and rehab homes, and to raise awareness for the housing crisis in this country."

Hopeful homeowners who are screened for eligibility must contribute their own "sweat equity" to the home they will own and occupy. They also receive education on how to manage the bills and budgets that come with homeownership.

Volunteers from the organization handle the rest, including construction, utility subcontracting and financial arrangements.

"The need for affordable housing is right here in our backyard," Bravo said. "It's here in Roxbury; it's in Mountain Lakes, Parsippany, Morris County, New Jersey, and around the United States. We know it's around the world. It's a crisis."

The Main Street project lured Morris County Surrogate Heather Darling back to her old neighborhood to volunteer with Habitat for the first time.

"This is my hometown," Darling said as she took a break from hammering a wall frame. "My church is right down the road. My office used to be right over there. My house is that way. I've never done this before. This is great."

Morris County Freeholder Kathy DeFillippo, another Roxbury resident, said she helped secure the land for the build — site of a former Roxbury DPW station — when she served on the Roxbury council more than seven years ago.

"We rehabilitated and remediated the ground, and now we're building," DeFillippo said

"Building for people who need homes is very important," said Randolph Councilwoman Marie Potter, who added that a Morris Habitat project in her township "is coming up."

Mountain Lakes Councilwoman Lauren Barnett said Bravo, a former Mountain Lakes mayor, helped recruit her. "I'm very excited to work on a Habitat project," she said. 

Kellie Doucette, district director for Rep. Mikie Sherill, brought her 17-year-old daughter. "We're having a great time today working with Habitat and supporting their mission," Doucette said.

New District 25 Assemblywoman Aura Dunn also donned a hardhat and grabbed a drill.

"I was just in a closet, and I'm moving on to the kitchen," she said. "Habitat has always been near and dear to my heart."

Bravo said the work is scheduled to be completed by November.

"Don't tell my staff, but I would like it done by September," she said.

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