Newly rebranded housing assistance nonprofit helps homeowners with rehab work
By Tim Rowland
The historic house on Main Street in Westport was all but gone. The once gorgeous front porch was ready to fall in, and water was leaking through ceilings and into the walls. It seemed on a too-familiar path from home to eyesore to zombie home to blighted neighborhood.
Its owner, Joelle Nesbitt, said the house had been in the family since 1954, when her grandmother purchased it for $5,000. But life had thrown some curveballs, as it does to many families, and maintenance suffered.
“It was close” to being lost for good, said Westport Supervisor Ike Tyler. But the town, which has made the mitigation of dilapidated properties a priority, called on the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County (HAPEC), a nonprofit that has labored in the trenches, and in some degree of obscurity, to help people rehabilitate and stay in their homes.
About this series
Adirondack Explorer is highlighting the region’s housing challenges, with a multi-part series running in our magazine, online and in a regular newsletter you can sign up for here. Award-winning Freelance Journalist Tim Rowland investigates causes of the housing shortage, housing’s effects on other aspects of Adirondack life, hacks that people use to get into a home and potential solutions being tried here and elsewhere. His reporting is based on review of real estate data, documents and extensive interviews.
“I hadn’t let people in my house for six years,” Nesbitt said, “Now I have my home back.”
In an October ceremony, Nesbitt christened her refurbished home and HAPEC christened a new name — Adirondack Roots, which it hopes will be a more accurate reflection of its work.
Aside from being cumbersome, the old moniker was problematic in a couple of other ways too, said Roots Executive Director Megan Murphy. One, it is a nonprofit, not an arm of Essex County government, and two, it serves not just one county, but counts among its territory as the lion’s share of the Adirondacks.
Roots is the conduit through which state and federal money flows to help financially challenged people find safe and affordable housing, and as part of that performs needed repairs, from small fixes to full rehabs to replacement of dilapidated mobile homes.
“This is a typical renovation, and demonstrates how we can help people put down roots and stay in their communities,” Murphy said. “We believe that there are many people that are unaware of our services who we could be assisting. We are going to be doing more going forward to increase awareness in our communities.”
For Nesbitt, those roots ran deep, and along with the pride she’s felt in the newly presentable house, she has also discovered and taken pride in her family and town history. When working on the house, she and her partner Doug Siple discovered old treasures, including paperwork from the original owners who built it in 1900, and a set of glass French dining room doors that long ago had been removed and stored in the attic to preserve them from rambunctious toddlers.
Roots housing rehabilitator Dave Whitford — “he has been amazing,” Nesbitt said — oversaw the project, one of five in Westport.
Whitford said the state awarded a grant to the town, which partnered with Roots to do the legwork. It works out both for the owner and for the town. “Part of the intent is to eliminate blight, but primarily it is to help people who maybe can’t afford a roof, which preserves existing housing stock,” Whitford said.
Murphy said Roots has 40 to 50 projects ongoing at any given time, with an average rehab cost of $55,000.
These efforts benefit the homeowner, but also the community at large. “We’re trying to fix up the town and make it a better place to live,” Tyler said. “This house was brought back at the last possible second.”
For her and her family, Nesbitt said it represents a new beginning. “There aren’t words to tell you how much I appreciate this opportunity,” she said.