STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — When 41-year-old Peter Sullivan started the application process for a home built by Habitat for Humanity of Southern Ocean County, he wasn’t hopeful.
But Sullivan, a graphic designer and single father of two, got a call a few days before Christmas last year from the Habitat chapter with good news: He would be getting a new home.
“This will be my first home I have ever owned. That’s what makes it exciting and intimidating. But Habitat teaches you how to be a homeowner,” Sullivan said.
The affiliate of Habitat for Humanity has built about 22 new homes for partner families in southern Ocean County.
“It almost isn’t real yet. I can’t believe it. The kids are thrilled because they’re going to be living near their cousins. It’s going to be amazing,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he has lived in a small apartment in Ship Bottom on Long Beach Island for the past 12 years.
After his ex-wife, Malissa, 39, died in 2009 from complications from pneumonia, Sullivan’s children — 12-year-old Liam and 9-year-old Keely — moved back in with him.
It hasn’t been easy. Sullivan was laid off from the Asbury Park Press in 2008 shortly before his ex-wife died, he said.
“The children were devastated, but it cushioned the blow of it when they came back to live with me and I wasn’t working so I was able to comfort them. They came back to the beach. They were beach kids,” Sullivan said.
The family settled into their two-bedroom apartment near the beach. Liam and Keely had their own room, but Sullivan’s living room doubled as his bedroom, where he sleeps on a futon, he said.
Sullivan knew he needed a home for him and his children.
Greg Muszynski, board president of Habitat for Humanity of Southern Ocean County, said Sullivan’s story resonated with the organization.
Families are chosen based on three criteria: their need, ability to pay and willingness to partner with the organization.
“We really try to find the family with the most need. Right now, Peter is living in a two-bedroom apartment and he is sleeping in the living room and his rent is over $1,000 a month, so that really stood out for us,” Muszynski said.
Muszynski said New Jersey is the fourth-most expensive state in the country in which to rent an apartment and Ocean County is the most expensive county in which to rent in New Jersey.
“The family’s stories are always really tough because it seems like every applicant has a compelling story. If we could build a house for everyone, we would,” Muszynski said.
Sullivan said his aunt, Olive Sullivan, who works for Habitat for Humanity, encouraged him to apply for a home. He said he skipped applying for two years until last year. He attended the organization’s family selection meeting, got his tax returns and other documents in order, and finished the application process.
“I was chosen on the first try, and I guess that’s not easy. I did everything right,” he said.
The Sullivans’ home is on Neptune Drive: a green ranch with a sizable yard for his two children. The home has three bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms, and is about 1,070 square feet.
“I go over there and walk around the house and I know it’s mine, but it won’t really hit me until we’re in there,” he said.
A mini building blitz was conducted last month with the help of the Habitat Roadtrip Crazies from Virginia. The group framed, sheet-rocked, sided, and roofed the home in two days, Muszynski said.
“This put us four weeks ahead of schedule for finishing the home. We’re scheduled for the closing in early March,” he said.
Families selected for a home through the organization can expect a monthly mortgage between $600 and $800, depending on their income. The mortgage payment includes taxes and home insurance.
Families must put in 300 to 500 hours in “sweat equity,” which is volunteer work that furthers the organization’s mission.
Habitat for Humanity has built more than 300,000 homes worldwide.
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