Home for good: Several groups unite to build an all-union Habitat house for mother of six

It was a good day in the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood this past Tuesday, March 14, when city officials and representatives from Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity, Construction Employers Association (CEA), and Precision Environmental joined Sierra (last name omitted for privacy reasons), a mother of six children and new homeowner, in the dedication of her home on Grandview Avenue.

The 1,450-square-foot, four-bedroom house acquired from the Cuyahoga County Land Bank was completely renovated by union members of about 15 different trade unions who worked in partnership with CEA and Habitat. CEA, the unions, and their affiliates donated about $25,000 in both work and time to the project, with the Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council adding $25,000 to the budget.

The entire project came about in the fall of 2021 when Tony DiGeronimo, president of Precision Environmental and 2023 chairman of CEA, approached Greater Cleveland Habitat president and CEO John Litten about working on an all-union construction project.

DiGeronimo says at the time, he had no idea that in 2016 Habitat made a commitment to build 100 homes in the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood by 2024. “I was looking to get involved personally,” he recalls. When he learned of the goal, DiGeronimo says he was hooked. “I believed it was something bigger than me and I knew we had the capabilities to build a house. I didn’t know at the time it would be fully funded.”

The groups involved broke ground on the project in April 2022. DiGeronimo says Habitat officials estimate the cost of the house is in the $240,000 range, but he says, “I believe it’s a $300,000 value.”

Litten says Buckeye-Woodhill was chosen by Habitat to build and renovate homes in response to redlining practices against people of color in the neighborhood during the 1930s and 1940s. “We’ve been able to turn that tide,” he says of Habitat’s work.

After committing to its goal in 2016, Litten says Greater Cleveland Habitat completed 27 rehabs between 2016 and 2018. “We committed to 40 houses in the neighborhood across four consecutive streets and have been acquiring more to rehab,” he explains. “Our goal is to have built, rehabbed, and sold 100 homes in Buckeye-Woodhill by the end of 2024.”

Three of the drivers in deciding where to work are available funding, need for affordable housing, and organizations willing to partner. 

Homeowner Sierra Gaughan (left) with Jessica Morrison – Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity, Associate Director of Family Programs - Habitat for Humanity Home Dedication Ceremony on Grandview AveHomeowner Sierra Gaughan (left) with Jessica Morrison – Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity, Associate Director of Family Programs - Habitat for Humanity Home Dedication Ceremony on Grandview AveSierra, who works in the medical field and had plans to go to school for phlebotomy this spring, was moved to tears when she saw her new home. She grew up with little family support and has faced unstable housing at times but has always worked hard to give her children everything they need. “We slept in cars, we got put out, everything,” she says. “So, I really appreciate it.”

She had previously applied to Habitat but did not qualify for the Affordable Homeownership program due to her income.

Sierra will take possession of her new home, which took almost exactly a year to build, in about 30 days, says Litten.

The four-bedroom house has two full baths, vinyl flooring,  laminate countertops, air conditioning and a high efficiency furnace, a garage door opener, Energy Star-rated lighting, and appliances, including a washer and dryer and a dishwasher.

“I was always at the laundromat,” declared Sierra. “And a dishwasher? No, I never got that chance to experience that.”

City of Cleveland community development director Alyssa Hernandez spoke at Tuesday’s dedication. “What it means for Sierra and her family is not just a safe place, but really a home,” she told the attendees. “This is where birthdays will happen, this is where holidays will happen. This is where homework will get done on that table that’s right here. And that is a home.”

In addition to Sierra, Litten, DiGeronimo, and Hernandez, other people at the dedication included construction manager Jerry Smith; CEA CEO Tim Linville; Cleveland Building and Construction Trades Council board executive secretary Dave Wondolowski; Habitat associate director of family programs Jessica Morrison; Cuyahoga Land Bank president and general counsel Gus Frangos; and Cleveland City Councilmember Blaine Griffin.

Pastor Ernest Fields of Calvary Hill Church of God in Christ led the opening and closing prayers and blessings.

Smith, who was the main person overseeing everything on the project from start to finish says he feels “blessed and very happy for the family…. It’s one more family that has a decent place to live.”

Sierra is happy to finally be home. “No matter what you go through in life, you can always achieve what you [set out to] accomplish,” she said at the dedication.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.