habitat for humanity of suffolk
Huntington High School students helped build a new home with Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County during their winter break in February. (Courtesy Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk via Facebook)

Homeownership is a life goal that many aspire to, especially in suburban areas. However, Long Island’s affordable housing crisis is pulling that dream out of reach for a growing number of people.

Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County helps individuals, couples, and families achieve homeownership one house at a time. The charity organization is an independent affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International.

“Our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live,” Lee Silberman, CEO and executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk County, said in a February webinar episode of Long Island Business News (LIBN) Now.

Habitat Suffolk, which is based in Middle Island, formed in 1988, 12 years after the international group was founded. The local organization built its first house for a single mother in Riverhead and has built hundreds of houses since — with a goal of around 10 to 12 per year.

A common misconception is that Habitat Suffolk donates houses at no cost whatsoever to families. In reality, Habitat uses cost-effective methods to build inexpensive homes, making them affordable and giving low-income people the opportunity to buy a house of their own.

“Our families are homeowners, and the houses go on the tax rolls at full value,” Silberman said during the LIBN webinar. “Currently, our typical house that we build and sell in Suffolk County appraises between $300,000 and $350,000 and will have a tax bill between $6,000 and $9,000.”

A growing housing problem on Long Island has made Habitat Suffolk one of the more active Habitat for Humanity chapters in the country. Increasing home prices have been pushing people out of the area for years, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only made it worse. In 2020, Habitat received more homeownership program applications than in the past five to six years. Because of the influx, the program is not currently accepting new applications.

“I’m in contact with Habitat affiliate leaders around the country, and many of them just don’t believe our numbers here,” Silberman said.

Volunteers help with each house built and don’t need prior experience to lend a hand. Over the past winter break in February, a group of Huntington High School students pitched in.

Habitat Suffolk also runs a thrift shop-type operation in Ronkonkoma called ReStore. People can donate their used furniture and household items in good condition to be sold at affordable prices. All proceeds go to Habitat Suffolk’s efforts in the community.

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