Homecoming: Navy veteran and his family receive rehabbed Livermore home from Habitat for Humanity

September 10, 2014
In The News

LIVERMORE — Sometimes, you can go home again.

For U.S. Navy veteran Mathew St. Denis and his wife, Leah, that moment came Friday when their family was officially presented with a newly refurbished home in Livermore from Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley.

Both Mathew — who served in the Navy until 2007 — and Leah grew up in Livermore, but the rising cost of housing had forced them to rent a home in Tracy. Soon, rather than making the long commute every day, Mathew will be able to ride his bike to his job at a local cable company.

“The biggest reason why it’s so unbelievable is because it’s Livermore,” he said. “It’s coming back home essentially. It’s really big for us.”

The St. Denises signed their purchase contract and disclosure forms after a dedication ceremony in the backyard of their new home and are scheduled to move in after escrow closes in mid-September, just in time for the birth of their fourth child.

Leah St. Denis said she had given up hope that their family could ever afford to move back to her hometown, until they saw a call for veteran families to apply for the first-time homeownership opportunity in January. Through the program, the house required no down payment, just 250 hours of “sweat equity.”

“We just kept meeting all the qualifications,” she said. “I think I’ll believe it when the moving truck finally pulls up. It’s just too good to be true.”

Work on the nearly 60-year-old, formerly dilapidated house on Andrews Street was done over nine months with the help of about 300 volunteers from Sandia/California National Lab in Livermore, Dow Chemical in Pittsburg, the local faith-based community, neighbors, and various local businesses. Altogether, volunteers contributed at total of 2,300 hours to the project; even Congressman Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, and Livermore Mayor John Marchand pitched in gutting the house.

“This was the community coming together to serve those who served our nation,” Marchand said. “This house was a blight on the neighborhood. We were able to acquire it and turn it around so a young family can move in. … To see the transformation is just incredible.”

Friday’s dedication drew about 100 volunteers, Habitat for Humanity representatives, city leaders and community members who had helped with the rebuild. The St. Denis family was presented with a hammer to symbolize the volunteers’ work, along with a Bible, an American flag and an oversized key to the home.

Habitat for Humanity bought the house for $375,000 as a foreclosure; the city of Livermore helped select the site and contributed money for the purchase from an affordable housing trust fund. At the time of its purchase, it was abandoned, dilapidated, and had issues with squatters and code violations.

Janice Jensen, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley, said the house was “one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”

“This home was in such rough shape when we got it,” Jensen said. “To say it was the dog on the block is a disservice to dogs.”

According to Jensen, the neighborhood, the finished product and the family who received it were all a perfect fit for the group’s mission.

“This is a community effort, and to me, that’s what Habitat for Humanity is all about,” she said.

The St. Denises’ home is one of 50 the local Habitat for Humanity chapter plans to build, renovate, or repair this year, and one of the first for the group under the Veterans Build homeownership program, a national program targeting veterans and their families.

The nonprofit is on track to serve 10 local veteran households with home repairs this year and one to two veteran households through homeownership, including renovations and new home construction, according to spokeswoman Erin Spaulding.