ST. JOSEPH — A small crowd of local business owners and community members gathered around a gray house near downtown St. Joseph Tuesday morning to kick-off a project that would give a house used by the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict a new life.

Armed with sledge hammers, Sisters Dorothy Manuel and Karen Streveler posed for photographs outside the house as Habitat for Humanity volunteers in blue hard hats walked around the inside, ready to begin renovating the home after it was donated to the organization by the sisters in December.  

Next summer a local family will move into the house, addressing a need for affordable housing in the area.

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“As volunteers and family members begin the kicking out the old to make room for the new and improved, we pray for the safety of all who participate in the renovation project and that everything gets accomplished in a timely manner. May this house truly become a home for the family and a blessing for their lives,” said Manuel as she led a prayer in front of the home. 

Sister Dorothy Manuel offers a prayer during a kick-off event at a new Habitat for Humanity project house Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in St. Joseph.

The Genesis House was built in 1926 and was purchased by the sisters in 1950. It was used to accommodate lay staff from the College of St. Benedict in the past, and later it was used to house chaplains, Streveler said.

Most recently, some of the sisters lived there for the last seven years.

“We know that God calls us to share with others, to welcome strangers among us, and to care about others and the environment in which they live. In handing over Genesis House to Habitat, we’ll be able to welcome a new family into the St. Joe community,” Streveler said in an email to the St. Cloud Times.

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Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Chad Johnson speaks during a kick-off event at a new project house Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in St. Joseph.

Renovating for a future family

Some of the renovations underway include fixes to the siding and windows of the house as well as the construction of two new bedrooms in the basement, a revamping of the garage, updates to the bathrooms, and the instillation of a new furnace and air conditioner, said Chad Johnson, Central Minnesota Habitat for Humanity executive director.

In total, renovations will cost the organization about $100,000, he said.

Habitat for Humanity has not chosen a family for this house yet, but there are several people waiting in a queue to be placed into homes like this one, Johnson said.

Once volunteers get further into the construction process they’ll begin to show the house to families and make their selection.

Volunteers gather for the first shift of work following a kick-off event at a new Habitat for Humanity project house Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in St. Joseph.

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To qualify for Habitat for Humanity housing you have to make between 35-60{49352ce17ba8b8c977b46090d4022735cbbf9c8d2a96e7181f87be9b36a1fd69} of the area’s medium income, depending on the household size, Johnson said. Applicants must also not have excessive debt and have an income.

No interest loans and partnering directly with families helps the organization connect people with houses that are “truly affordable for them,” he said.

People enter the Habitat for Humanity project house Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021, in St. Joseph.

“We really are trying to serve those lower income families that can’t get a traditional loan, or are living in apartments that are overcrowded, unsafe, or [in] rental houses that are not the best conditions for living, growing and thriving,” Johnson said. “It is tough, I mean there’s not a lot of good options for a lot of families in the Central Minnesota area because the rental prices are continuing to rise every single year.”