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ON THE SCENE: Wes Whitney gets a new home

Wes Whitney smiles in his new home. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

On Thursday, July 7, rustic furniture craftsman Wes Whitney of Keene Valley was given the keys to his new home, a mobile home fully paid for by a federal grant administered by Essex County.

After a month of living in his brother’s travel trailer and watching his older house be demolished and carted off, Whitney now has a brand-new furnished home surrounded by a newly landscaped yard. Whitney felt as if he had won the lottery. Stunned is an understatement.

The Manufactured Housing Replacement program provided Whitney’s home, a federally funded state program designed to assist low-income individuals living in aging mobile homes with decent housing. The program offers brand-new, energy-efficient homes so people of modest means can enjoy a comfortable, affordable living environment.

The application process is neither easy nor quick as homeowners have to have their home evaluated, demonstrate ownership and share tax records for several years as a means of demonstrating need.

People like Whitney who meet the grant criteria do not have the resources or borrowing ability to replace or upgrade their homes. Consequently, a high percentage of their income, such as it is, is needed to cover energy costs. In addition, they have fewer funds available for food and the necessities of life, and their homes are often cold and drafty. Frozen water pipes are an ongoing problem.

Wes Whitney's new home (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Whitney saw a notice for the grants in the Sun Community News. The article said that Essex County was looking for people with older dilapidated mobile homes who’d be interested in applying for a grant to get them replaced. Applications were available through their town clerk, and Whitney said the paperwork was very involved.

Crucial for him was Keene Valley librarian Karen Glass’s offer to help complete the application forms correctly and submit them electronically. When he felt overwhelmed and frustrated, Glass helped him stay the course and submit the requested information on time.

“I had to go back three years in my business records and show copies of everything,” said Whitney. “Karen Glass was helpful with everything, filling out the forms, making the copies. It took me three tries to get everything filled out correctly. But with her help, I finally got it. I was ready to give up, but Karen knew what to do.”

Glass said that providing such support is part of what the library offers to anyone in the community, anyone who walks in the front door and that she is thrilled that Whitney’s application was accepted.

Another challenge is deciding to move. Yes, your home is cold, drafty and expensive to live in, but for many, it’s their home; it’s an experience they know. In some ways, it’s not unlike a person in an abusive relationship. From the outside, the simple answer is to leave it, but for the person in that relationship, that’s like being asked to step into the unknown. Will they be better or worse off if they make the change?

Wes Whitney's old home (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I lived in my old house for 22 years,” said Whitney. “When I bought it, I thought I’d live in it for one or two years, but that soon turned into five, and then far longer than I ever imagined. Then I got used to it and didn’t know how to leave it, like a bad marriage, I suppose. I resisted at first. I mean, I was used to it, but then I applied as I couldn’t see a downside.”

Helpful was getting encouragement from his sister Rebecca Odell and brother Kerry Whitney.

“Wes has needed a new home for a long time,” said Odell. “I don’t want to say how bad his trailer was, but it was not livable. It was awful. It had three outlets that worked; the toilet didn’t work. The water didn’t work. And he’s not alone; many people live in similar homes in our county. He’s so fortunate to have gotten this grant. So fortunate to have been selected. The big thing is he applied. He took that step. I helped, Barbara Dwyer (accountant) helped, and Karen Glass helped. Others helped. It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”

Enticing is that the home would come fully furnished with an energy-efficient stove, refrigerator, a water heater, two bedrooms, one bath, a living room and kitchen, two decks and a new septic system. Plus, his old house would be removed at no cost and, if needed, a new foundation pad installed.

A third challenge is moving out, storing what you want to keep, and finding a place to live while the old mobile house is removed, a new foundation and septic system installed if needed, and the new mobile home set in place.

This is Wes Whitney’s brother Kerry Whitney and sister Rebecca Odell watch the new house being moved into place. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

A fourth frustration is once the mobile home has been delivered, you can’t walk in; it has to be connected to the septic and electrical systems, and the decks have to be installed. And then, you need to get a certificate of occupancy from the town’s code officer before moving in. But once those steps are accomplished, the owner receives the keys and can take ownership.

“I absolutely love it; it’s better than I ever dreamed,” said Whitney. “It’s life-altering. I’m going to save on heating and cooling. No more frozen pipes. It’s a little bigger than my other one, two feet wider. The way it’s laid out is perfect. I’ve done cabinet work and carpentry all my life and I can tell you that it’s very well made. The craftsmanship is excellent. They do good work.”

Whitney liked that he could select a flat or textured ceiling, the wall covering and interior colors, and the flooring. As Whitney has a fused hip due to a car injury in his youth, he asked for a large step-in shower instead of a tub/shower arrangement and will get a high elongated chair-height toilet.

Whitney must live in the house for 10 years to completely own the home. If he were to sell it after two years, he’d get 20% of the sale price with the rest going back to the federal agency. After five years, he’d get 50%, and so on. After 10 years, Whitney will fully own it and can do what he wishes. If between now and then he wants to enlarge the deck, put a roof over the deck, add an extra room, or any other improvement, he will first have to get approval from the agency.

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Whitney. “My shop’s here, my family, great neighbors and friends, so I think I’ll definitely be here in 10 years. It’s a dream come true.”

Karen Glass, Keene Valley Library director (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

As for his recommendation to others living in an old run-down mobile home, Whitney advises that they apply for the grant

“Absolutely,” he said.

He cautions that the process takes time and urges people to seek help from people experienced in writing grants and using computers and who have access to printers, like his local librarian — and not give up. The wait and result are well worth it.

Another blessing of his new house is “no more mice; I can finally keep them outdoors,” he said.