Five chosen for Cherry Hill Lane homes

Thu, 10/24/2019 - 6:30pm
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“Big moment.”

Rosemary Tobin uttered those words prior to announcing the winners of the Housing Board’s lottery involving the five affordable homes located in its Cherry Hill Lane development off Cooneymus Road. A few moments later, fellow board member Michael Kiley shook the bucket containing the applicant’s names, and then Marianne Brown, who, along with Steve Smith, donated the land for the development, methodically opened the envelopes and announced the winners.

“I wish everyone luck,” said Brown, before dipping her hand into the bucket to retrieve the names of the winners.

Bernice Johnson and Joe DeMatteo were chosen for the two bedroom houses.

Shannon and Louis Marsella, Jessica Wood, and Vivian Donis and Jorge Morales were the first on the list for the three bedroom homes.

Alternates for the two-bedroom homes are as follows: David Chatowsky, Meg Vitacco and Josh Maldonado, and Jessica Veldman and Seth Dulac. Alternates for the three-bedroom homes are: Carolyn and Shane Casady, Hanna and Rob Martin, Dylan Chase, and Eden Smith and Dave Bannon.

The lottery was held on Oct. 17 in the Town Hall chamber, when 12 hopeful applicants gathered to learn of their fate. A nervous anticipation filled the room, as the pre-approved applicants settled into a packed chamber. When the winners were announced there was a diametric mix of jubilation and disappointment.

For Shannon Cotter-Marsella, a teacher at the Block Island School, winning has “been a long time coming. Marsella said this was the “fifth lottery” she has participated in — “our fifth time trying to get a home. We were last in the last two lotteries.”

“It feels awesome. I feel like a won the lottery,” she said, during a phone interview. Marsella was out of town and unable to attend the lottery. “I’m so happy. I’m so happy for everyone who got a home.”

“My phone was blowing up. Word spread fast,” said Marsella, who noted that she rents on the west side in close proximity to the Cherry Hill Lane development. “It’s a great spot. I’ve been watching the development. I love the area.”

Marsella said she had friends sending “good energy her way” prior to the lottery. “I think karma was on my side; and that’s probably why we didn’t get a home before. We were meant to live” at Cherry Hill Lane.

Bernice Johnson told The Times that she felt fortunate to be chosen. “I’ve never won anything,” she said, noting that she “had a feeling that she was going to win... I’ve been petrified. It’s an amazing, life-changing commitment.”

“I’ve worked hard in many different jobs on this island to get to this point. I’ve paid my dues,” said Johnson. “It’s a Block Island success story: come here, work hard, and all things are possible.”

For Vivian Donis and Jorge Morales winning was a dream come true.

“For us this is a big step toward achieving the American Dream,” said Donis. “It means one of our dreams is coming true.”

Donis said she’s never entered a lottery before, and they “were hoping for the best.  But we knew it was a lottery so nothing was for sure. I personally prayed to God, and I know he answered my prayers.”

“We feel very blessed. We will be able to give our kids a house where we can all live permanently without worrying about what we are going to do next summer. So a big thank you to the members of the Block Island Housing Board and everyone else who made this possible. You are  responsable for making five dreams  come true. God bless you all.”

Jessica Wood, a math teacher at the Block Island School, said that prior to the lottery, she was “trying to mentally prepare for disappointment, and it was hard. I was trying not to get too carried away.”

“I had this gut feeling in my stomach — like oh boy — oh gosh — that this isn’t going to happen,” said her daughter Olivia, who attends sixth grade at the school.

“It’s so great” getting a home, said Wood, who noted that she was “so glad that Shannon (Marsella) won. We work together.” 

“I was really hoping for this,” said Olivia. “It’s an opportunity to have family over whenever we want. It’s so exciting.”

Joe DeMatteo said that he was practically speechless after hearing his name called as a winner. “Wow!” he said. “I don’t have any thoughts right now. I appreciate all of the work that everybody has done on this. I thank all of them” for making the project a reality.

DeMatteo said he “didn’t want to get too worked up” prior to the lottery, and didn’t expect to win. As for what it means to him, he said, “I don’t have to move twice a year now.”

Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas, who spent a decade spearheading the Cherry Hill Lane project, said she was “thrilled and heartbroken” about the lottery’s outcome. “It’s just overwhelming.” She then sighed, and said, “There’s more work to do,” referring to her mission to create affordable housing on Block Island.

Pappas and her husband, Tony, who shepherded creation of four affordable apartments at the Harbor Church, said, “It brings tears to your eyes,” when thinking of those who now can purchase a home.

“This is a culmination of all this effort,” said Cindy Pappas, who thanked a number of people who contributed to the project. She mentioned past and present board members, as well as the contractors.

Pappas also said that although all of the applicants who applied qualified for a home, those who were chosen still have to go through further financial vetting before they are granted a mortgage. That’s one of the reasons why the board keeps an alternates list; in case an applicant withdraws, or can’t obtain financing.

“So, there’s still a long way to go” with this process, said Pappas. “Should someone, unfortunately, not be able to (secure a mortgage, etc.), then we go to the alternate” on the list. There is also the matter of, “cold feet,” she said.

Pappas told the story of when she and her husband got their “first mortgage” to complete construction of their home. “We had been building it ourselves, and we were like two years into it, and we looked at each other, and said, ‘At this rate it’s going to take us 10 years; maybe we should get a mortgage, and finish it.’ We got a mortgage for $40,000. We were up all night” worrying about it. “But we just closed our eyes and jumped.”