YORK, Pa. — Jennifer Montalvo sits on the porch of the Habitat for Humanity home in York she recently purchased on Chestnut Street, remembering the row home fire of 2009 and her family connection to that day.
"My uncle, Angel, he was looking for an apartment. He had seen the apartment. He liked it. The next day he was supposed to drop off some money," Montalvo explained.
"He came back everything was burnt down."
Sixteen row homes burned to the ground that day in July 2009.
"There was a fire that originated in the middle one with no firewalls in the attic," said York Habitat for Humanity Construction Manager, Brad Anderson.
He knows the history of block in the Northeast Neighborhood very well and was able to the describe quickness with which the flames moved.
"Within about 10 minutes from one end of the block to the other and they all burnt down," Anderson said.
10 years later, with the help of Anderson and a small group of volunteers, York Habitat for Humanity is rebuilding what was lost, while providing low-income housing to those interested in purchasing their first home.
"We built four row homes in the past year and a half and today we've started putting the third floor walls up," Montalvo said.
Recently moved in, Montalvo and her family are thankful for the opportunity of home ownership and for the neighborhood they now live in.
"(I'm) very happy that people are getting their forever homes, they're dream homes. Especially with Habitat, that they get a chance to actually be a homeowner. Nobody else won't give that chance," Montalvo said.
Brad and his team know that through their work, and the work of York Habitat for Humanity, that they are not only replacing what was lost, but providing a future for many.
"This service through York Habitat allows the lower income family to actually own a decent home that they can, you know, be proud of," Anderson said. "It makes you feel good when you know that people are struggling, that they can call home home again."
Brightening up the block, Montalvo says the row of new homes and those to come make the block look beautiful, contrary to the "big empty lot" the 700 block of Chestnut Street used to be for the last 10 years.
"A lot of people lost their houses that day," Montalvo said.
"Hopefully they found their forever home, or they can join the program also, and get their forever home."
Volunteering at York Habitat for Humanity has dropped over 90% since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. For information on how to share your time with the organization you can go to their website.