A Building Blitz to Transform Swatara Street in Harrisburg June 21st-29th

HARRISBURG (April 27, 2018) How many church volunteers does it take to build three houses in five days?

 Gary Lenker, Executive Director of the Tri-County Housing Development Corporation, thinks 120 is the magic makeover number, and he is taking ‘em to the streets of Harrisburg from June 21 to 29.

The massive effort is being coordinated by his organization in conjunction with the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity and a youth-led mission trip called WoodsWork, sponsored by the Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church in Severna Park, Maryland.

As Lenker and his Build team explained in an April 23 presentation to Harrisburg City Council, the summertime transformation of three vacant lots at 15th and Swatara Streets will require the closure of the road between 15th and 16th streets as the group descends upon the lots like ants to a picnic, and raises up homes furnished with fresh hope and opportunity. 

“The group is dedicated to demonstrating faith through service, and I am so honored and thrilled that they chose a neighborhood in Harrisburg over projects in Cincinnati and several other major cities,” said Lenker, an experienced builder who was just re-appointed by Gov. Tom Wolf to the Board of Directors of the Pennsylvania Housing Financing Agency (PHFA) and who served as the long-time vice-president of family-owned Donco Construction.

The mission trip will last nine days in total, Lenker said, with five days for working, two days for travel, and two days for rest.  Twenty to 40 adult advisers will supervise the young people.

The group will travel by vans, donated through the generosity of Enterprise Rental Car, and will stay in sleeping bags in a large common space in the West Shore Christian Academy in Shiremanstown.

To augment that altruism, Habitat for Humanity is currently accepting donations of time, talent, money, building materials, food and more from caring citizens in the region.  

“My organization’s mission is to provide affordable housing for low- to moderate-income families,” Lenker said.  “Partnering with another nonprofit is rather unheard of. I was hesitant at first because we have different funding streams and different structures, but it is working.”

Habitat for Humanity also embraces the partnership.

“Endeavors such as this are what make a community stronger, safer and healthier.  This 2018 Builder Blitz is a partnership between three organizations who are deeply committed to neighborhood revitalization and changing lives through service,” said Yinka Adesubokan, Executive Director of Habitat’s Greater Harrisburg Chapter.

Tri-County HDC has been changing lives by building homes and constructing opportunities for nearly 20 years.

Since 2009, Tri-County HDC has already built 10 new homes in this development known as Mt. Pleasant Homes, with six more on the drawing board. The homes to be built in the Blitz will span 1,600 square feet, comprising four bedrooms, with one full bath and two half-baths, rear parking, and a security system.

“The homes really are very nice,” Lenker said.

Beyond the solid construction materials and curb appeal are the confidence and sense of security that these new homes build in families in need.

The structures may cost more than $150,000 each to construct, but a struggling family may buy them for $99,900, for example, Lenker said, with TCHDC lending a helping hand to subsidize the difference.

His organization is dedicated to eliminating blight and has frequently acquired abandoned homes, either rehabbed them or tore them down, then built new.  He said the obstacles are many, but, “It’s really important that you complete what you start. We always find a way.”

And, he continued, “Habitat for Humanity — they do a great thing.”

In the infancy of the idea, Lenker reached out to Adesubokan and asked, “What about us trying to work together? I have these lots; they’re ready to build. Can we combine and get a couple houses built?”

Building three houses in five days, the housing equivalent of an Evelyn Wood speed-reading course, “is going to be a really intensive process,” Lenker said, featuring concentrated constructing.

Habitat for Humanity operates ReStore off Paxton Street, by Pennsy Supply, where many household items are re-purposed and re-used, and where the June project’s lumber will be delivered and the walls, panelized, Lenker said.

After the three homes are framed and under roof, down to the windows, siding, and interior partitions, a college group that shadows WoodWorks will come in and install heating, insulation, drywall, painting, and other finishing touches.

Lenker said his group’s parameters for the families who purchase the homes are the same as Habitat’s requirements: the family income must be between 51 and 80 percent of median family income.

A family of five, for example, would qualify if they earn between $40,351 to $65,550 in annual income.

“This project means so much to the community and to me personally,” Lenker said.  “Seeing a family in need get the keys to a new home and live happily ever after makes this job special to me.”

To donate money or materials to the Blitz, or for more information on how to purchase the homes, please contact:  Yinka Adesubokan, Executive Director, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Harrisburg, at yinka@harrisburghabitat.org or 717-545-7299, ext. 203.  For general information on the project, contact Gary Lenker at 717-231-3604, ext. 137, or for more information on the Tri-County HDC, visit www.tchdc.net/2018-build-blitz