Habitat begins construction on first home south of Division Street in Dover

Michelle Johnson, center, gets help from friends and members of Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity in raising up the front wall of her home now being built on South Queen Street in Dover. (Special to the State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — It was a moment that Michelle Johnson will never forget and one that promises to change her family members’ lives forever.

It happened the day officials with Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity told her she had been approved to build a new home at 117 S. Queen St., which will become the first CDHFH home south of Division Street in downtown Dover.

Ms. Johnson and her children, Shawn and Sharnae, helped raise the first wall of her new house Sept. 2, in a ceremony celebrating the construction of the 39th home in NCALL’s Restoring Central Dover initiative. It’s also the first in the group’s Phase II project, which will bring the building of 15 more houses in central Dover over the next five years.

“When Habitat came to my home to tell me that I was approved, I can’t tell you the excitement that went through my body at that second,” Ms. Johnson said. “I didn’t know if I should cry, scream or shout! The look on my children’s faces was priceless when I told them we would be moving in due time into a new home. I just want to say thank you, Habitat, for assisting me with accomplishing one of my lifetime dreams — homeownership.”

Tim Bailey, executive director for CDHFH, said Ms. Johnson’s home is the third CDHFH house to start construction in 2020, after delays due to COVID-19. He added that he was excited that such wall-raising ceremonies and home dedications were finally taking place again.

“It’s very exciting for me personally to see these ceremonies grow in attendance, especially on a day like today,” Mr. Bailey said at the event. “One of our mottoes at Habitat is ‘Bringing People Together.’ It’s a big part of our mission, and this (wall-raising) is a great example of that, as I look around and see all the many organizations that contribute to construction in central Dover.”

Anas Ben Addi, director of the Delaware State Housing Authority, applauded the teamwork of NCALL and CDHFH for building 38 new homes in central Dover, which has brought a revitalized look to the area.

“I see this event as a celebration for the house here that we are going to raise the wall, but also as a milestone, as we are going to celebrate the work that has happened with the help of all of you,” he said.

Volunteers are busy working on the Habitat for Humanity home being built for Michelle Johnson and her family in Dover. The house is the first in Phase II of NCALL’s Restoring Central Dover initiative. (Special to the State News/Gary Emeigh)

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said that NCALL and CDHFH are changing the downtown Dover area one block at a time.

“Dave Hugg (Dover’s city planner) and I have a saying that we like to use, ‘When you’re moving dirt in Dover, Dover’s moving ahead,’” Mayor Christiansen said. “Habitat and NCALL have certainly moved a lot of dirt over the past five years to rebuild these neighborhoods, and they’ve done something more than build houses — they’ve built families.

“The Johnsons are already a family, but they’re going to be bigger, better, safer and secure in their new home. That’s part of the American dream,” he added.

Dover City Councilman Fred Neil said that he enjoys attending as many Habitat ceremonies as he can because he can see the change that is being spurred by the new-home construction and the pride of homeownership that comes along with it.

“This is the dirt of pulling people together, not separating,” Councilman Neil said. “What we have done is taken a seed and planted it right here of human beings who are going to take care of the neighborhood as they grow, as it grows, and all these new houses come in. This is what makes the vision of Dover great. This is the dirt of togetherness.”

The Johnson family home will be a 1,259-square-foot house with three bedrooms, one-and-a-half bathrooms and an attached garage. It is the first of three new houses CDHFH has planned for South Queen Street.

Ms. Johnson is looking forward to lending a hand and helping build and finance her new home through “sweat equity.”

“Currently, I’m completing the homeownership program for Habitat for Humanity,” said Ms. Johnson. “I’m very excited and humble about this experience because it’s been a long time coming. I’ll be one of the first people in my immediate family to purchase a home.”

She said her new home was the answer to numerous prayers.

“When I first decided that I wanted to purchase a home, I was scared,” Ms. Johnson said. “Scared because of my income, wondering if I could afford a mortgage. I applied for a conventional mortgage and was approved, but my mortgage would have been well over $1,000.

“I decided to wait on God and pray. Well, I’m here to tell you that my prayers were answered.”