The Capital: From outhouse to Habitat House; Shady Side family makes journey into modernity


Tuesday, April 20, 2010 12:00 am

Something as simple as cooking a pot of spaghetti is a real chore for Monetta Dennis of Shady Side.

Without indoor plumbing, the mother of two has to trek up the road to her father’s house, fill up a bucket, and bring it
back to the stove. And the only bathroom for Dennis and her twin 16-year-old sons is an outhouse around back.

But that’s all about to change, because at the end of May, Dennis and her two sons will move into a new home built
on their lot with the help of Habitat for Humanity and other community organizations.

Although Dennis owns her home on a quarter-acre property with a gorgeous view of South Creek, the home has
never had indoor plumbing. The property has been in her family for 100 years, but since she has lived in the house,
she hasn’t been able to afford to have a well drilled or pipes installed. Lack of a well or access to public water meant
that she couldn’t even bring a spigot to the kitchen window.

Dennis works the night shift as a health aide to dementia patients at an assisted living facility in Annapolis. She had
a little money to spare about a year and a half ago, and decided that it was time to get a well drilled. So she
approached the county Health Department to find out what she needed to do.

Health department officials visited the Dennis property and alerted Arundel Community Development Services
because the home needed significant repairs before plumbing could be installed. ACDS works to create and
maintain affordable housing, and many of its referrals come from health department personnel in the field.
Kathy Koch, ACDS executive director, said her agency sent a survey crew to find out what kind of renovations the
organization could reasonably complete.

Unfortunately, the property was not a candidate for rehabilitation. Aside from retrofitting the house with plumbing, the
home required significant structural repairs and needed to be raised to withstand flooding on the low-lying lot.
Koch said that ACDS then decided to contact Habitat for Humanity to see if that organization could build the Dennis
family a new home.

“When there is that rare case, we go to Habitat to partner with us,” Koch said.

‘Sweat equity’

Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake became involved last year, and the Dennis family quickly moved onto the build list.

Two things helped to expedite the Dennis’ case. First, the family owned the lot. Second, ACDS’ involvement helped,
because it brought funds to the table.

Monetta Dennis said she never approached Habitat because she thought she needed a significant down payment, a
misconception that Mike Mitchell, Habitat’s executive director, said is widespread. But Dennis was eager to get into her new home and quickly went to work to earn her “sweat equity.”

The philosophy of Habitat for Humanity calls for each homeowner to put in 250 hours of work, known as sweat
equity, prior to groundbreaking and during construction of his or her home.

Dennis decided to do her pre-groundbreaking sweat equity at ReStore, Habitat’s home improvement store of
donated materials in Pasadena.

For months, Dennis would work the night shift with her Alzheimer’s patients in Annapolis, leave in the morning to
work the day shift at ReStore, then return to Shady Side.

Last December, the paperwork, plans and building permits that ACDS had filed came through and the Dennis family
got to witness the groundbreaking for the new home.

The job site

Each Saturday, Dennis and her sons, Calvin and Andrew, are on the job site along with dozens of local volunteers.
Pete Cox is Habitat’s site supervisor. He said that the family has been involved in everything.

“Monetta was out here shoveling 3 feet of snow during the storms so that our workers could get in,” he said.
Cox said Calvin and Andrew seem to be enjoying the experience.

“They’re good workers,” he said. “Whenever they see we are here they come over – like over Easter break, they
were here every day.”

Monetta Dennis couldn’t be more excited about the house. She recently gave a tour of the home, which is framed
and sided. The drywall is up. It is a small, two-story home – 1,050 square feet in all – but it is bigger than the family’s current house. It has two bedrooms and one bathroom.

On the tour she said, “let me show you the peach,” which is what Dennis calls her upstairs bedroom. It has a pretty
view of the water and two large closets.

“I love this house,” she said. “Pete has no idea what they have done for me. No idea.”

Cox noted that one of the first things he did back in December was to remove the outhouse and give the Dennis
family a “GotuGo” portable restroom.

The new home sits 11 feet above the water table, thanks to construction methods Pete said are similar to those used
in Habitat homes built in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.

In addition, the home is one of the most energy-efficient dwellings that Habitat has built. ACDS has been intimately
involved in every aspect of the construction, from selecting insulation and appliances to helping with building funds
and subcontractors.

Once the Dennis family moves in next month, a demolition crew will come out to raze the existing house.

“I won’t be here for that,” Dennis said, noting that she has a lot of memories of the old place.

ACDS has ongoing programs with the state and county governments to help bring indoor plumbing to homeowners
at no cost or at minimal costs. If you know of someone who needs help with affordable housing, visit

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