Local women’s home rehab talents put to good use by Habitat

Dawn Harvey directs volunteers at a Huntington County Habitat for Humanity home rehabilitation project on Saturday, June 23. Harvey, a member of the local Habitat board, is using her experience in home rehabilitation while working on the Walnut Street house.
Dawn Harvey directs volunteers at a Huntington County Habitat for Humanity home rehabilitation project on Saturday, June 23. Harvey, a member of the local Habitat board, is using her experience in home rehabilitation while working on the Walnut Street house. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Jan. 28, 2016.

The house in the 1500 block of Walnut Street has seen better days.

Crumbling cement steps, a saggy ceiling and less-than-weathertight windows were among its problems.

But since the house fell into the hands of Huntington County Habitat for Humanity, its future has started looking a lot brighter, with crews of volunteers in and out as they revamp the home’s layout, install new windows, shore up the ceiling and more.

“We completely gutted the home,” says Kasey Kohlmorgen, Huntington County Habitat’s executive director.

And she points out that much of the work is being done by women, a group that — years ago — may have seemed out of place on a construction site.

Work on the Walnut Street house, Habitat’s latest project in Huntington, kicked off last May with a Women Build featuring a volunteer crew made up entirely of women.

“We hope to wrap up by the end of May,” Kohlmorgen says. “Another Women Build will likely be the last build.”

Female volunteers are not an uncommon site on the regular work crews; in fact, a couple of women were swinging hammers at the house during a work session on Saturday, Jan. 23.

The volunteers were being coordinated by Dawn Harvey, who’s been working on the Walnut Street house since the beginning of the project. She redesigned the home’s layout, drawing on her 17 years of experience on home rehabilitation projects.

Harvey got involved in her first rehab when she lived in Texas.

“My husband was a first year teacher and I was a grad student,” she says. They couldn’t afford a house in the neighborhood they wanted, so they bought a fixer-upper and went to work.

“What we didn’t know, we figured out,” she says.

As their family grew, they outgrew the house. So they decided to go the rehab route again.

“We thought, ‘Well, that worked out really well,’” she says.

She and her husband David have been in the rehab business for 17 years now, having worked on homes in Texas and, after moving north, in Adams and Huntington counties. Usually, the couple sells the homes after they’ve been rehabbed.

A couple of years ago, the former director of Huntington County Habitat — aware of Harvey’s rehabbing expertise — asked her if she’d serve on Habitat’s board of directors. Harvey said yes and remains a member of the board.

She’s also a member of Habitat’s construction committee, Kohlmorgen notes.

Harvey’s general construction knowledge came in handy when she was called on to help redesign the layout of the house, reconfiguring it as a one-story home with three bedrooms, a bath and a half, a mud/mechanical room and living, dining and kitchen spaces. An awkward attic bedroom was removed, and the attic will now be available for storage.

“Having somebody with that knowledge has really been useful for us,” Kohlmorgen says.

The house itself was donated to the local Habitat organization by a bank that ended up with it after a foreclosure. It had been empty for some time, contributing to its sad state.
“Houses that are given to you are usually pretty tortured,” Harvey says.

But Kohlmorgen says the cost of a rehab is far less than the cost of new construction.

“By the time we’re done, this will be almost like new,” she says.

There are other benefits, too, she says. The city benefits as property taxes are once again paid on the home, and the neighborhood benefits from the removal of blight.
Someone will eventually buy the house through Habitat, and Kohlmorgen says the organization is looking for potential buyers. The home should be ready for a family by early summer.

An informational meeting for potential buyers will be held on Feb. 25 at 6:30 p.m. at The Gathering place, located at the corner of Washington and Guilford streets, in Huntington.