They're just about to finish two houses in St. Mary's County, and officials with Patuxent Habitat for Humanity are hoping to build two more.

These next two will be cheaper: The housing group will be able to build them without paying the impact fees the county usually charges on new construction to help pay for schools and other services.

"This makes a huge difference to us," said Rick Sass, who serves on the board for Patuxent Habitat for Humanity, which helps families build houses with volunteer labor. The families then pay off the mortgage over time.

The impact fee of $4,500 in St. Mary's, while lower than in nearby counties, is one of the biggest expenses the nonprofit group has had with the new homes, Sass said. So the waiver will enable it to build about 10 percent more homes, he said.

It was the first request for a waiver received by the St. Mary's County commissioners since they approved the idea in August to encourage nonprofit groups to build more affordable housing. The ordinance includes a protection for the county that ensures that if the homes are sold quickly to someone else outside the program, the impact fee must be paid.

The group has built three houses and has land in Calvert where others will go up next summer. "Land is the biggest problem," Sass said. "We need to work hard to get land in St. Mary's."

Anne Johnston, the new executive director of the group's local chapter, said that as the cost of land and housing keeps rising in Calvert and St. Mary's counties, agencies such as Habitat become even more critical.

Commissioners seemed to agree. They voted unanimously to grant the waivers for the two houses slated to go up in California.

"We're all anxious to make that motion, by the way," said commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large), as more than one commissioner spoke up after he praised Habitat for providing good housing for working families. "Is there such a thing as a unanimous motion?"

Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R-Golden Beach) said, "Call it a wave."