Habitat ‘blitz’ builds five homes in seven days, in SE Portland

Find out where this year’s Portland Habitat for Humanity “Building Blitz” took place – and why families appreciate the new homes …

Maria Eby of Portland Habitat for Humanity, new homeowner Juana Nene, and Habitat for Humanity board member Susie Vischer here pause for a moment, as the 2008 Building Blitz is in full swing.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
What was only a vacant lot a few weeks ago is now a small development of single-family houses occupied by their new owners – not renters.

“Welcome to our 2008 Home Building Blitz,” we were greeted Maria Eby, Portland Habitat for Humanity Marketing and Special Events Manager. We were on the building site at SE Ogden Street, just west of SE 82nd Avenue of Roses.

This “blitz”, Eby said, was the local manifestation of an international event created by Habitat for Humanity. “We’re building five homes in seven days, with the help of five professional homebuilders. At the same time, other groups around the country will build a total of 263 homes. This means that, nationally, more than 1,000 people will be moving out of substandard housing into their new home.”

Construction workers and tradesmen of all kinds swarm over the East Portland building site.

Not a handout
The potential homeowners who come into the Habitat for Humanity program are currently living in substandard housing conditions, Eby said. “We give people who earn lower incomes the chance to become first-time homeowners.”

But, this program isn’t a form of welfare, she added. “This is absolutely not a handout; it’s actually a hand up,” explained Eby.

First, the participants must qualify, meaning they must have steady employment and good credit. “Once they are accepted into the program, they put in 500 hours of ‘sweat equity’ or community service on habitat projects. Then, they buy the home from us, with a ‘0% interest’ mortgage,” Eby continued.

Geoff Schumacher of Schumacher Custom Homes confers with furnace specialist Brad Bassitt, with Bassitt Heating, about the placement of ductwork in the new Habitat for Humanity home they’re building.

Pro builders volunteer services
Five teams of building contractors raced through the week to finish their assigned home on time.

One of the builders, Geoff Schumacher of Schumacher Custom Homes, took a moment to tell us why he was involved in the project. “We heard about the Blitz in ’06 – we took a look, and saw it as a great project, and wanted to get involved,” he said.

Schumacher said he was happy to be able to give back to the community. “And, the part I like best about my job – on an everyday basis – is handing the keys over to the new homeowner.”

What a difference a week makes! Just seven days later, these homes are finished, and ready for their new owners to move in.

Payments recycle into new houses
Because their mortgage payments are a maximum of 30% of the family’s income, Eby said, the housing is affordable. 100% of their mortgage payment on their house goes toward the equity – and it’s usually less than their rent payment had been. “They’re able to create a future for themselves that they’ve never been able to create before.”

Participants’ mortgage payments go into a rotating fund at Habitat for Humanity, allowing the organization to fund the building of more new homes, Eby explained.

Looks forward to spacious quarters
New homeowner Juana Nene took a break from working on her house. “Today I’m very nervous and excited. My sons have come today to work on my new house. It seems almost impossible; now I have a better future, and more room. Mucho moi bien.”

Juana Nene accepts the keys to her family’s new home from Sam Portesi of Buena Vista Custom Homes.

Seven days later …
A week later, we stopped back in at the site to see the dedication ceremony. One by one, the families came up and received keys to their new homes from the builder who coordinated its construction.

When it came time for Juana Nene to take the keys from Sam Portesi of Buena Vista Custom Homes, she asked that a prepared statement be read, because she was too nervous to speak:

“Even though we waited a few years, it’s been worth the wait. Thank you to all the companies and workers who donated their time and material to construct my house. This house was motivation for my son, José, to graduate from high school. Thank you very much. I really don’t have enough words to say thank you, and God bless you.”

Mt. Hood and Portland Habitat for Humanity merged
Then, few days ago, the organization announced that Portland Habitat for Humanity and Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity have joined forces to become a single, larger, and more-effective organization.  This newly formed affiliate, “Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East”, will serve the cities of Portland and Gresham, including all of Multnomah County and North Clackamas County.

Judith Huck, President of Classique Floors and previously board chair of Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity, will serve as chair of the newly formed affiliate.

Find out more about this great organization by visiting www.pdxhabitat.org.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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