Our History in Troy: Habitat for Humanity Rensselaer County

“Hope is the Good Thing…” Jeannette Alejandro, homeowner

Habitat for Humanity Rensselaer County (HfHRC) was formed in 1997 because of the need for affordable housing for hard-working, lower-income Rensselaer families who lived in substandard conditions.  The County had both families who needed better housing and low-cost land/inexpensive housing which could be used for new homes and rehabs. Since 1997, HfHRC has built 17 houses, including three rehabs.

The first house was a joint project with Capital District Habitat for Humanity. The house was built in two sections at a Home Show at Hudson Valley Community College.  Rather than move the finished product back across the river, HfHRC trucked it to Troy where a crane lifted the sections onto a new foundation. After the sections were joined it became the home for Ethel, who worked as a bus monitor, and her family. This house was soon followed by three others in the same neighborhood.

 “It’s Something You can Pass Down to your Children.” Ethel Wood, homeowner

Habitat for Humanity Rensselaer County (HfHRC) was always run by volunteers with no paid staff. They contracted  with businesses for foundations and sometimes asbestos removal, but all the other work was donated. Their Board has worked tirelessly for 15 years to organize committees to find land, find and schedule volunteers, buy materials, and build. Other committees found and evaluated families and led them through the building and homeownership process. Still others worked on fundraising and publicity.

HfHRC construction volunteers included retirees and a multitude of church members. A coalition of churches rehabbed a house in North Troy for a Burmese family.  They were assisted by the architecture  program at HVCC for the first handicapped-accessible house for a mother and her son, who is in a wheelchair. A student designed the house, and subsequently went on from Hudson Valley to the architecture program at RPI.

HfHRC went from building one house a year, to two. A student chapter was formed at RPI and they built one house near the campus and worked on most of the others. The house they built went to Jeannette Alejandro, an RPI employee who worked in the mail department.

One of the goals was always to serve the entire County, so we were always looking for land outside of Troy. A church in Castleton gave us a site for two houses if we would tear down an old building on the site. These houses stand right across the street from the Hudson River.

“This is mine, I helped build this house.” Wendy Archambeault, Homeowner

Throughout HfHRC’s history, they have built houses for people who were long-time Rensselaer County  residents, and for families who were originally from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and Burma. Dedications were performed by Christian  clergy, along with Buddhist monks and Moslem Imans. Families worked in mattress factories; they were foster parents; they worked in doctors’ offices; they worked for New York State; they worked at high-tech offices. They went to school to become health workers, and their children went to college.

In 2011, discussions ensued as to how to further expand the building program in Rensselaer County. One question resonated with all: “How can Habitat work be done more effectively in our community?”  The Answer: It is virtually impossible to build more than 1-2 houses a year with an all-volunteer staff who also have other jobs.   As a result, the board at HfHRC  decided to merge with their neighbors in Albany, formerly known as Capital District Habitat for Humanity. The combined chapter adopted placing Habitat for Humanity at the front of their name to form Habitat for Humanity Capital District. Our newly formed affiliate serves Albany, Rensselaer and Southern Saratoga Counties.