U Habitat chapter volunteers restore home

Amy Hackbarth

The house at 2311 Portland Ave. is run down. Once a four-bedroom home, an owner converted it to a duplex before it fell into disrepair.

Fake brick siding peels off the house, the glass in the windowpanes is splintered and the wooden railing on the porch hangs from the hinges.

But to Brian Barlow, co-president of the University Habitat for Humanity Campus Chapter, the house is the realization of a dream.

The campus chapter began rehabilitation on the house Saturday – the chapter’s first full sponsorship after a decade of waiting.

“The goal of this chapter has always been to sponsor a house,” Barlow said. “This last year we put a lot of effort into it and we finally got one.”

It will be the first house to be fully funded by a student group in the Twin Cities.

“This is unprecedented,” said Julie Gugin, director of programs and services for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. “We’ve never had a student group take on something like this before.”

During the next six months, the campus chapter must raise $25,000 for the house and help rehabilitate it.

The campus chapter must raise $12,500 to match a grant it received from Habitat for Humanity International. Lisa Fehlen, a campus chapter member, said the chapter has raised $2,000 so far.

“We’re selling T-shirts, ornaments and suckers, and we’re accepting donations,” Fehlen said.

The chapter hopes to cover any additional expenses beyond the $25,000 with individual donations.

The campus chapter must also restore the house.

“We usually have about 40 volunteers working three to four days a week for about six months,” said Paul Honigs, site supervisor for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

Honigs said the group plans to restore the house to its original layout by moving the staircase that divided the house into a duplex and demolishing a slanted room in the back.

“We do all sorts of jobs, basically anything they tell us to,” said Erin Marx, an elementary education sophomore working on the house. “We put up walls, use saws, all those things.”

The only thing volunteers don’t do, Honigs said, is the plumbing and electrical work in the home.

Other groups will also rehabilitate the house. Larry’s Crew, a team of senior citizens -some of whom are University alumni – will work on the house on Tuesdays. Some University student groups will volunteer, as well as students from the University of St. Thomas, Hamline University and Macalester College.

Minneapolis Mayor-elect R.T. Rybak said Saturday at the house’s opening celebration that affordable housing is important. He told stories of immigrant families living in crowded apartments and homeless children on Minneapolis streets.

“When you’re in there, working and sneezing in the dust, think about those stories and think about the good thing you’re doing for one family,” Rybak said.

Twin Cities chapter employees will select a family to receive the house in the next few months. The family is required to work on the house for 500 hours of “sweat equity.”

“It will be fun having them work next to us, helping us build their house,” Marx said.