City lot reclaimed to become woman’s ‘forever’ home

Marcella DeSanto is two weeks or so away from adding her presence to the 500 block of Louisa Street, a neighborhood in transition just east of the Williamsport Regional Medical Center.

When the closing and final paperwork is signed, DeSanto is about to become the new homeowner of a three-bedroom and 2 1/2 bath single family home that was constructed on what a year ago was a blighted and abandoned lot.

After living in Old Lycoming Township for the past 14 years and renting, DeSanto is ready to bring her dog Kingston into her new living quarters at 507 Louisa St.

On Thursday, DeSanto stood outside gazing up at the French-style doors and the sparkling white and gray exterior, with a front porch built to withstand the elements and a welcoming living room greeting those who step over the threshold.

As a makeshift almost-see-through yellow construction tape was trimmed in two by scissor on the front porch, DeSanto, who can move into the house because she was income-eligible for the program under the regulations by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and county, felt another step closer to permanency in the neighborhood just a few blocks east of the hospital’s parking lot.

Her new house was built by labor donated from skilled and supervised individuals who are monitored by staff with the Lycoming County Pre-Release Center.

Ensuring the house was built from foundation to shingle is the Lycoming Neighborhood Development Corp.

The corporation is a non-profit organization responsible for providing more than 280 housing units countywide during in its 40 years of existence, said Edward Lyon Jr., executive director.

DeSanto, who works for a home health care company, she could not wait to move in, and that Lyon has readily been at her beck and call as has Mary Rucinski of the city Community Development department.

DeSanto said she was working at another job, which she lost, and then moved in with her friend, paying rent for the past 3 1/2 years all the while searching for another place to call her own. Already, she is eager to show off the tiled kitchen, floor and share her homemade cookies and pasta.

“The home’s construction is unique for the area in that it has no basement, but is not built on a slab of concrete,” Lyon said during a brief interlude of the open house. “Homes built on slabs are too close to ground level and do not have a Victorian feel that is prevalent in most of Williamsport’s neighborhoods,” Lyon said.

Lyon said he worked with Anthony J. Visco Jr. Architects to design a home that would be a good fit to the existing neighborhood.

Visco, who designed the house layout, which has a spacious front living area, kitchen to the rear and steps leading the upstairs bedroom area and bathroom, was on hand to hear the many compliments.

Visco included features such as the French-style doors.

The corporation collaborates with the Lycoming County Commissioners and city and the Pre-Release Center in the housing projects. A county grant of $50,000 and a city grant of $52,000 were the catalysts for the project, Lyon said.

“I purchased the lot, which was blighted and empty, in a sheriff sale about a year ago,” he said.

The labor to construct the home was provided by some 71 individuals at the center.

Citing the sturdiness of a house built on Chester Street under the program and using prison labor, Timothy Mahoney, county prison deputy warden for treatment, said, “Nobody said, ‘This house fell apart.’ “

Mahoney credited job foreman Bernard Weikel for assuring quality construction, and is hoping for a new round of skilled laborers and craftsmen to contribute to the next house construction.

“It’s part of our mission with the community and we’re glad to be here,” Mahoney said. “Tomorrow, we start all over and we do it again.”

Charles Luppert, a member of the LNDC board, said the houses built under the program are among the projects he has been most proud to have taken part in during his career in finance and banking.

“This is an example of a private and public partnership,” said Lycoming County Commissioner Tony Mussare, adding the homeowner will help to change the neighborhood by her extension to others in it and the same in return by neighbors welcoming her.

“The home is gorgeous,” said City Councilwoman Bonnie Katz. “What this brings to the neighborhood is incredible because good brings good.”