Hundreds of renters flock to Lents Home Buying Fair

How to improve a community? One new homeowner at a time they say. Discover who’s behind this unique real estate initiative …

LHI’s Amie Diffenauer and Christine Rhoney, SUN Site Manager at Kelly Elementary School, welcome folks to the third annual Lents Home Buying Fair.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For decades, the Lents Neighborhood – one of the oldest established communities in Portland – was looked down upon, because the streets were lined with shabby homes in various stages of disrepair. Renters who lived there didn’t care about the houses any more than the landlords did.

In 2005, a group made up of officials from government agencies, non-profit organizations, Realtors, lenders, and developers started the Lents Homeownership Initiative (LHI).

Volunteer Kristin McMillen helps sign in Tammie Travis and her kids, Sofia and Angelina.

“The benefit of encouraging people to ‘buy into’ the neighborhood – instead of renting,” said Amie Diffenauer, LHI Community Organizer, “is that once you start putting down your roots, you become more concerned about how your neighborhood looks; you’re more concerned with crime and other neighborhood issues.”

In this situation, one takes more ownership in his or her neighborhood, literally and figuratively, Diffenauer added, “because your assets are right there on the ground.”

Neighbor Patricia Cabrera talks Jill Kuehler, manager of the Lents International Farmers Market, scheduled to open on June 15 on SE Foster Road at SE 92nd Avenue. “We’ll have 20 vendors this year,” she says.

Added 200 new Lents homeowners
Many initiatives are long on talk and short on action. But by working together, the LHI partners have already helped over 200 families buy a home – usually it’s their first house – in the neighborhood.

“We’re helping dedicated, hard-working people of modest means get into nice, decent living spaces; these houses are real agreeable homes,” Diffenauer commented.

“LHI is important to our overall mission,” stated Nick Sauvie, Executive Director of ROSE Community Development, LHI’s parent organization. “ROSE stands for ‘Revitalizing Outer South East’. There are a lot of good things happening in Lents; there’s really a bright future here in so many ways.”

Gabriela Straczek of Washington Mutual with a potential homeowner, Jennifer Merrill-Sordelet.

One-stop home-buying help
Potential Lents Neighborhood homebuyers can take classes on building their credit, learning how to apply for a loan, and mastering the home-buying process. Another way LHI reaches out to the community is through their annual springtime Home Buying Fair.

Although this year April 12 was a beautiful spring day – tempting for recreation and getting out of town – more than 550 people came to the third Lents Home Buying Fair, Diffenauer told us after the event. “The fair proves there are many people dreaming of owning their own home, and are willing to spend part of a beautiful day to get information on how to make this dream a reality.”

In addition to the workshops and seminars – presented in five languages – held throughout the event, representatives from participating lenders, builders, mortgage and title companies, and home insurance agents were on hand, making the fair a one-stop source for home-buying help.

David Wright gets road safety information from Sharon White, City of Portland Office of Transportation.

SUN School partner
“The best thing about this event,” said Christine Rhoney, SUN Site manager at Kelly Elementary School, host and partner in the event, “is being able to bring people together.”

Rhoney told us that their “SUN School”, a school-oriented program of Portland Impact, “works to help people become more successful. It’s about providing information, education, and support, to help people through different stages of life; to help get them where they want ago. We co-coordinate and co-host this event with LHI, because it truly matches our mission.”

Representatives on hand from partnering lenders, builders, mortgage and title companies, and home insurance agents help folks attending the fair get all the information the need about buying a new home.

Says event is empowering
One of the participants, Jennifer Merrill-Sordelet, said her family is trying to buy a new home. “I love the neighborhood; this area really is being revitalized.”

Showing us the big stack of information she carried, Merrill-Sordelet said she appreciated the workshops on how to get a loan, down payment assistance, and all the different opportunities for assistance with down payments.

“I really feel empowered,” Merrill-Sordelet added. “I found out that I can qualify for one of the assistance programs. It’s exciting to think how great it would be to buy a house, instead of throwing money away on rent.”

The Manager of Burgerville #41, Joe Tharp, Asst. Manager Dan Hathaway, and co-worker Stori Coy prepare some of the 500 hamburgers served at the fair.

500 burgers to go
After fueling renters’ appetites to become homeowners, Burgerville grilled up burgers to feed the crowd.

“We’re invested deeply in communities and schools,” said Joe Tharp, manager of Burgerville #41 at SE 92nd Avenue and SE Powell Boulevard. “We partner with LHI as part of our community service. We’re building lifelong relationships here in the community, as well.”

The winners are …
“As part of our Home Buyer’s Fair,” Diffenauer mentioned, “we hold a drawing that awards a $4,000 down payment assistance grant. This year, we drew three finalist’s names: Angela Oswalt, Nathaneual Miller, and Amelia Sanchez. The grant will go to the first finalist who’s ready to purchase a home.”

Is this a sign pointing to a new home in your future in Lents? Check in with LHI and find out!

If you’re interesting in learning more about LHI, CLICK HERE, or call Amie Diffenauer at (503) 788-8052 ext. 105, or e-mail

Fair sponsors were: Portland Development Commission, Bureau of Housing and Community Development, Umpqua Bank, HOST Development, Fred Meyer, Burgerville, Unitus Community Credit Union, Bank of America, US Bank, Oregon Housing and Community Services, Washington Mutual, and Wells Fargo.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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