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United Way of Lancaster County


Lancaster Lebanon Habitat for Humanity dedicates new homes in Columbia

Lancaster Lebanon Habitat for Humanity hosted a home dedication for its 237-245 S. Fifth St. project in Columbia on Saturday, April 20, 2024. (Photos: Tim Stuhldreher)

“Today, the light shines through the darkness,” the Rev. Kasahun Tesso said. “The dream (has) come true.”

Tesso, an Ethiopian native and the pastor of Oromo Evangelical Church of Lancaster, was offering a blessing Saturday morning at a ceremony dedicating four new row homes on South Fifth Street in Columbia.

Built by Lancaster Lebanon Habitat for Humanity, they will soon house four new families from around the world.

Among them is Tesso himself, along with his wife and their three children. His neighbors include another Ethiopian family, one from the Dominican Republic and a family of Afghan refugees.

All four took turns at the microphone Saturday to offer emotional thank-yous to the Habitat for Humanity volunteers and staff.

Left: Yarinet Urena, second from right flanked by translator Eugenia Pérez, speaks during the dedication. At left are Urena’s daughter Brenyeliz, niece Dahiana Ruiz and daughter Breidy. Right: Saeeda Wardek, at right in foreground, translates for Shafiq Bahrami.

Left: Selamawit Teklu listens as Amanuel Fitwi says a few words. Right: Pastor Kasahun Tesso, center, offers thanks on behalf of his family, from left, wife Tibka Tucho and children Dibora, Kerajee and Darartu.

For the local Habitat chapter, the houses are the first new construction it has undertaken since 2016. Construction began last March, and is expected to wrap up the first week of June, Habitat Vice President of Development & Communications Amy Balestier said.

Andrew Szalay

They serve as a demonstration, Habitat President Andrew Szalay said, showing the nonprofit’s capability, despite the challenges of the post-pandemic environment, to shepherd new construction from acquisition through land development to completion.

That’s important, because new construction is a key component of Habitat’s plan to build or renovate 30 units by 2026. Earlier this year, it launched the public phase of “Open Doors,” its $4 million capital campaign to underwrite the increased activity.

“This is the start of that onrush of new builds,” Szalay said Saturday.

237-245 S. Fifth St., Columbia. The doors have been decorated with red bows. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The four homes span 237, 239, 243 and 245 S. Fifth St. Habitat acquired them from the Lancaster County Land Bank, paying $80,500 in March 2023, according to county records. The Land Bank works with municipalities to acquire and redevelop blighted properties.

Welcome signs were posted on each house in the household’s native language: Spanish, Dari, Tigrinya and Oromo. (Photos: Tim Stuhldreher)

All told, including land acquisition, development and construction, the project cost $1.2 million, Szalay said, or $300,000 per house.

The units are about 1,300 square feet apiece. They will be sold to their new owners at appraised market value, with the difference made up by subsidies including federal HOME dollars, state PHARE funding (Pennsylvania Housing Affordability & Rehabilitation Enhancement) and local donations. The appraisal is pending, but Szalay said he expects it to come in at around $210,000 per house.

Through Habitat, homeownership program participants are provided 0% mortgages that cost no more than 30% of their income. They attend financial education classes and contribute hundreds of hours of sweat equity. “They work for every shingle,” said Allyson Davis, director of family services.

Dari speaker Saeeda Wardek translated for one of the homeowners, Afghan refugee Shafiq Bahrami. Afterward, she added a few words of her own on behalf of the refugee community.

“These are not just houses,” she said. “They are homes, which we lost in our country,” and they signify welcome and a new life.

“We will be always there with you whenever you need us,” she said, “because we are Americans now.”