Habitat for Humanity Seven Rivers Maine finished an affordable single-family home in Boothbay Harbor in November, six months behind schedule due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Adam Wyatt Lacher

TOPSHAM — While the coronavirus pandemic has caused construction delays, the Topsham-based Habitat for Humanity Seven Rivers Maine continues its push to build more homes.

Habitat for Humanity Seven Rivers Maine provides low-income families the opportunity to own their own home. It serves Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties and northern Cumberland County.

The organization had to scale back its volunteer building teams to follow all Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention safety guidelines, which has slowed construction. Many volunteers stepped away due to concerns about exposure to the virus, said Adam Wyatt Lacher, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity Seven Rivers Maine.

Construction professionals, such as electricians and plumbers, have had less time to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity during the pandemic because they are slammed with work. With many people doing home repair projects while staying home, “we were not able to contribute top dollar,” Lacher said. “But we got it done.”

The family scheduled to move into the newest home in Boothbay Harbor by May didn’t get to move in until November. Lacher said there was pressure to get the home finished since the family of four was living in a one-bedroom home with other family members until their new house was ready.

“Materials were through the roof and availability was scarce on a lot of materials, too,” Lacher said.

The delays also pushed back construction of the next project, a home of  Federal Street in Wiscasset that was originally slated to be finished by the end of this year. The Maine State Housing Authority, which granted a subsidy for the project, extended the deadline to the end of 2021.

The Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland is still moving forward with plans for three new affordable homes at the corner of Route 1 and Old Brunswick Road in Freeport in 2021, said Laura Duplissis, a communications and volunteer manager for the Portland-based organization.

Due to higher building materials costs, the organization’s construction manager had to shift how they were building some of the house frames to be more affordable, Duplissis said. If building materials become more expensive and scarce, that could complicate future construction projects, she said.

So far, “We’ve been fortunate to keep moving despite those hiccups,” Duplissis said.

Another challenge, Habitat’s ReStore on Main Street in Topsham closed in March for 11 weeks when the pandemic hit, losing more than $60,000 in revenue. The ReStore sells affordable home improvement products and unwanted building materials, appliances, furniture and other donated items. The proceeds support affordable housing programs.

As people have had to quarantine at home, Lacher said the pandemic has illustrated the need for safe and reliable affordable homes more than ever. Many people still can’t afford homes in the communities where they work, he said.

The median home price in Sagadahoc County in 2019 was $245,000, requiring a median income of $70,697 according to the Maine State Housing Authority. However, the median income was $64,346, with 58.6% of the households in Sagadahoc County unable to afford the median home price.

Lacher said Habitat for Humanity will continue to build homes, but still needs volunteers and donations.

“We have great partners like Maine State Housing and Rural Development,” Lacher said. “It’s an extremely expensive business model to pull off. You can’t make a profit doing it. It has to be charity work and we’re doing as much as we can by being as responsible as we can to our donor dollars but we’re doing one (affordable home) at a time. That’s the pace we’re at.”

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