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Matisse Drive – The Wylie Family

The Wylie family invited guests and volunteers into their new Mays Landing home during the weekend to celebrate. The occasion brought matriarch Karen Wilson-Wylie to tears. “It’s wonderful to share your dream with people because you never know that other people can be inspired by what you went through,” she said Sunday. Thanks to Habitat for Humanity of Atlantic County, Wilson-Wylie and her husband, Tony Wylie, were able to purchase their first house and make a permanent home for their three children: Anthony, 20; Tyler, 17; and Jordan, 8.

Habitat for Humanity has been helping families build and purchase affordable homes since 1976. Locally, the need for housing remains high, but with a large inventory of existing homes, the Cape May and Atlantic county affiliates are looking toward rehabilitations for future projects. “The model of what Habitat does is changing a bit in Atlantic County, because why build if we have these homes available?” said Carol Schwartz, executive director for the Atlantic County chapter. “We’re trying to look at how we can successfully do that.” Schwartz said Atlantic County has such a high rate of foreclosures that the organization has to consider them as an alternative to building new.

“I mean we’re the highest in the nation. If we’re going to be getting houses, our plan would be to rehab them and put families in them,” she said. “Use what you have.” Shawn Lockyear, executive director for the Cape May County affiliate, said Habitat for Humanity International, the parent organization, offers a lot of flexibility to its affiliates to do what works best in their community. “I know that that’s been huge down in Habitats in Florida,” Lockyear said of rehabilitation projects. “It’s a great way to approach what’s going on down here with real estate.” She said Cape May County hasn’t been involved with any renovations yet but has moved a home that was donated from Ocean City to Middle Township. “It was in perfect shape, and it was very similar to the houses we were building,” Lockyear said. Atlantic County also recently moved a home from Longport to the West Atlantic City section of Egg Harbor Township. They are currently renovating a home on Ohio Avenue in Atlantic City that was donated to the organization. “We do rehabs now because that’s where everything is going,” Schwartz said. “We were rehabbing the house in Atlantic City on Ohio Avenue, and that’s going to be used for Sandy families.” The families who need a transition home while they are renovating homes damaged during Hurricane Sandy will be able to use the property, she said. Lockyear said one of the big challenges to doing renovations is volunteer expectations. “People think they are going to be building a house from scratch,” she said. She added that renovations are much trickier than new construction because there are a lot of variables once walls start coming down. “It’s not as easy to manage,” Lockyear said. Schwartz said the Atlantic County affiliate has been offered homes in Atlantic City, some of which are in flood zones and need to be lifted. She said another problem is homes in towns with high taxes. “Our families can’t afford those real estate taxes,” she said. Whether building or renovating, Schwartz said the goal of Habitat for Humanity remains the same.

“Habitat is about building communities and homes and hope,” she said. The Wylie family benefited from that goal this summer. Karen Wilson-Wylie and her family were living in a two-bedroom apartment until the end of June. They officially moved into their three-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom home on Matisse Drive on July 1, she said. Wylie-Wilson said debt from student loans had held her and her husband back from being able to afford to buy a place of their own. A former coworker at Atlantic Cape Community College, who also purchased a home through Habitat for Humanity, told her how to apply last year. She went online to check it out on her lunch break, she said. “It was the last day they were accepting applications,” she said, so she drove down to the office in Egg Harbor City and filled out an application that day. Seated before a scripture she affixed to the wall in her living room, Wylie-Wilson brimmed with joy. “It was like bursting a bubble. It was the greatest feeling ever,” she said of when she was able to move her family in. “Blessings, blessings, blessings to be able to own a home and to be able to give your kids a place to call home.”

  • By Claire Lowe, Staff Writer for the Press of Atlantic City

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