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Habitat for Humanity and Joliet get together

Three houses to be built on former site of Joliet Mattress factory

JOLIET – It was a match made in housing development heaven.

The city of Joliet had a large vacant lot at Summit and Stone streets, but no funds to develop it.

Will County Habitat for Humanity had money to build a house, but needed somewhere to put it.

On Thursday, Habitat volunteers broke ground at 519 Summit St., the first of what eventually will be a subdivision of three homes on property donated by the city to the nonprofit Christian housing organization.

“Usually you see these houses going up in ‘onesies’ and ‘twosies,’ ” said James Haller, city planner. “To have them build three is pretty unusual.”

The property is the former site of the Joliet Mattress factory, Haller said. The city foreclosed on the building and demolished after it was abandoned in the 1980s.

“We’ve been trying to develop the site for more than 20 years,” Haller said.

The city was able to use federal funds to subdivide the property and extend water and sewer services to it, Haller said.

“It’s a win-win situation – no question about it,” Mayor Tom Giarrante said.

Annette Leck, executive director of Will County Habitat for Humanity, said the two-story, 1,500-square-foot home at 519 Summit St. will be completed in 12 to 18 months. In the meantime, Leck said her agency will look for a family to occupy the three-bedroom home.

Leck said she plans to meet with parishioners at nearby St. John’s Catholic Church to help find potential candidates.

The agency puts an emphasis on low-income Will County residents in need. Candidates need to have good credit and must put in 350 hours of “sweat equity” into the program.

Habitat for Humanity provides their homeowners with 20-year, interest-free loans. Proceeds from the loans are used to build new homes.

“This is a hand up, not a hand down,” Leck said. “The mission for Habitat for Humanity is to end poverty by giving people the ability to own a home.”

The agency has built 65 homes in Joliet and Lockport since its founding in 1988, Leck said. Of those, 17 are now fully owned by their residents.

Corporations that provided volunteers and material to the project included ExxonMobil, Citgo, Whirlpool, Valspar and United Way of Will County.

Leck credited ExxonMobil, in particular, for helping out with 519 Summit St.

“They come out when we have just a hole in the ground ... after they leave we have something that looks like a house,” Leck said.

One hundred employees and retirees from the ­ExxonMobil Joliet refinery will work on the house for four shifts over two days, said Tricia Simpson, public affairs manager.

ExxonMobil also will provide a team volunteer involvement grant for $8,000 to $10,000 for the project, Simpson said.

The local refinery focuses on one Habitat project each year, Simpson said.

“We try to just smother it to get the walls up and the roof on,” she said.

Some of those working on the house volunteered on their own.

Stan Bumstead, a retired contractor from Orland Park, was on the site Thursday to cut headers.

Bumstead said he and seven of his retired friends are working on four Habitat for Humanity projects at the moment.

“I just can’t sit still,” Bumstead said.

One challenge in building at 519 Summit St. is the steep grade, which falls away to the south and east. Bumstead noted that the foundation on the garage is 9 feet deep.

The property is next door to the former Fred Sehring Brewery Co. malt house at 512 Summit St., a huge limestone edifice built before 1875, according to the Historic American Buildings Survey of Joliet. Before it was used as a mattress factory, the property at 519 Summit St. once housed the brewery’s main office, according to the survey.

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