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Heart Is the Muscle in This Home

Wed, 11/02/2022 - 15:52
Many hands made light work at as the walls were raised Monday on a Habitat for Humanity of Long Island house in East Hampton that Matt Charron, in the red hardhat, and his son, Jackson, will soon call home.
Carissa Katz

Matt Charron has spent many of his Saturdays over the past two-plus years volunteering with Habitat for Humanity of Long Island, helping to build new houses for families just like his for whom home ownership or a reliable year-round rental was always just out of reach. On Monday, the tables were turned, as others pitched in to raise the walls on a Habitat house in East Hampton that is being built for Mr. Charron and his 15-year-old son, Jackson. 

"This is a little overwhelming," Mr. Charron said Monday to the crowd gathered at the construction site on Thomas Avenue to mark the occasion, many of them integral to bringing the project to fruition. 

In addition to Habitat for Humanity's employees and volunteers, there were representatives from Ben Krupinksi Builder, the East Hampton company partnering with Habitat on construction, PSEG Long Island, which is sponsoring the house, and subcontractors including Window World, which is donating all of the windows for the project. Members of Team Rubicon, a veteran-led and founded disaster response organization, and veteran supporters from the company Southwire were on hand to lend some muscle to the work, as were some of Mr. Charron's friends, and his younger brother Jay Charron of Springs. Jackson got to take the morning off to be there.

A single father who grew up here and served 18 months in the Marines after graduating from high school, Matt Charron came back to the South Fork in 2009 after 20 years away. He has been working for the past 12 years at The East Hampton Star, where he is the deputy production manager, and has a second part-time job at LTV helping with the technical end of recording local government meetings. Jackson is a sophomore at East Hampton High School, and a "high honors student," his dad said Tuesday after sending The Star's arts and sports pages off to the printer. 

"Habitat is a hand up; it is not a handout," Lee Silberman, Habitat for Humanity of Long Island's C.E.O. and executive director, told the crowd on Monday at the construction site. He stressed that the houses the nonprofit builds with its partners are not free to the families who get them. "We are a homeownership program." 

On Long Island, even when land is donated, the cost to construct a single-family house can run between $275,000 and $300,000. Future homeowners chosen by Habitat must qualify for a mortgage (they get a 2-percent rate on a 30-year loan), and in lieu of a down payment they give 300 hours of sweat equity to other Habitat for Humanity of Long Island projects, including their own houses.

So far, Mr. Charron has worked on six or seven projects around the Island, doing everything from "framing to wall-raising to finish carpentry to putting hooks on doors and installing flooring." Working with other volunteers and alongside other Habitat homeowners "is always a lot of fun," he said. 

Habitat families are also asked to complete first-time homebuyer and financial fitness courses and to do 25 hours of community service. Mr. Charron did his building a website for the nonprofit East End Cares. The whole experience "is about community building, and I'm the fortunate recipient of that," he said on Tuesday. 

He and his son live in a one-bedroom basement apartment. He already had his name on East Hampton Town's list for affordable housing back in early 2020 when Dierdre Herzog, an accountant who prepares his taxes, suggested he apply for a Habitat house. "I just thought there would be thousands of applicants."

In May of 2020, at home on lockdown, he noticed that the application deadline had been extended until the end of the month and decided to fill one out. "This is one of those blessings of Covid," he said. "The only reason I put in the application is I had the time on my hands. If Covid hadn't happened, I would have been too busy."

The Habitat board first offered up a house that was under construction in Springs. He accepted "with concern," he said, because his situation was so uncertain in those early days of the pandemic. That house was instead offered to a couple who were volunteers with the Springs Fire Department, but Habitat told him it was doing a "veterans build, and if I wanted it, I could have it, but I needed to hang on for a year."

Ben Krupinski Builder was the construction partner on the Springs house. Mr. Silberman recounted on Monday that he had asked Ray Harden, a principal at BK Builder, to recommend another builder that might be interested in partnering with Habitat for its next project in East Hampton. 

"When Lee reached out to me and said it was going to be for a veteran, I said, 'Absolutely,' " Mr. Harden said Monday.

But even with such an experienced partner and the generosity of subcontractors like H.B. Millwork, Ned Stevens Gutter Cleaning, Palermo Paving, and Quackenbush Cesspools, there were bumps in the road.

A year turned into a year and a half and then a few more months, with "excitement, little miracles along the way, and disappointments," Mr. Charron recalled. Over the summer an issue with the cost of hooking the house up to the Suffolk County Water Authority main had him worried the house might never come to be, but then Habitat received a sizable donation that allowed it to cover the cost. 

A Habitat Long Island Blitz Build project, the house is on an accelerated construction timeline. While father and son may not be able to move in by the end of the month — there will still be inspections and a punch list of other things to address — the house is expected to be all but finished in just three weeks. 

"This organization speaks the language of the heart," Mr. Charron said Tuesday. "I'm sober and that's a big part of my life. . . . We were speaking the same language, service first. I've worked really hard for this before I knew I was working hard for it."

On Monday, before many hands came together to make light work of the wall-raising, Mr. Charron said a few words, but first asked "for a moment of silence for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their families, and those that are also sick and suffering." 

"It was a celebration," he said the next day, "a beautiful thing, and that is happening all over the place. People want to help each other and this is the secret sauce in making this world a better place, caring about each other."

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, both on hand Monday along with the town board members David Lys, Cate Rogers, and Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, applauded the multitiered effort and reminded people that they have the chance on Election Day to give local governments additional tools to get deserving families into stable housing. The community housing opportunity fund — Proposition 3 on ballots in East Hampton, Southampton, Southold, and Shelter Island Towns — would authorize a .5-percent real estate transfer tax to fund affordable housing.

"The town needs more tools in the toolbox to be able to meet the demand," Mr. Thiele said. 

"It's been a struggle to stay here," Mr. Charron said, but he was driven by a desire to give Jackson a stable life. "He's been so patient through the whole thing." Now that they'll soon have a home to call their own, Jackson, who has been begging for a dog forever, can finally get one, his father said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article had the wrong spelling of Ray Harden's last name. 


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