Real ‘Street of Dreams’ finished in ‘building blitz’

Discover why, even though this outer East Portland ‘Dream Street’ is lined with functional homes, the new owners have already had their dreams come true …

As the “Home Builders Blitz 2014” begins, carpenters from Noyes Development Company frame in a Habitat for Humanity home they’ll finish within two weeks.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Every year, custom homebuilders put up a few fancy ultra-expensive houses, and charge visitors to visit their “Street of Dreams” and drool at the over-the-top opulence that’s on display.

But, outer East Portland is host to another kind of “Dream Street”, located in the mid-County Centennial neighborhood. Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro East (Habitat) has helped low-income working families build and purchase the home of their dreams on SE 171st Avenue, just north of SE Division Street.

“When it’s completed next week, the ‘SE 171st Avenue project’ will be the largest Habitat for Humanity project in the state,” said Habitat President and CEO Steve Messinetti at a home construction site.

With finished homes behind him, Habitat for Humanity President and CEO Steve Messinetti looks in at the work going on inside one of the four homes to be built in just two weeks.

“We’re about to finish the last of 45 new homes on June 13, during what we call the ‘Home Builders Blitz 2014’,” Messinetti told East Portland News.

The foundations had been poured before the actual “building blitz” began on May 30. By midday, the frames were going up for the new homes.

“The last four homes we’re building right now are constructed under a unique program for our organization,” Messinetti explained. “They will be built in just two weeks time. Instead of our normal project where we’re building with volunteers – perhaps over a period of months – each of these homes was ‘adopted’ by a professional local homebuilder.”

Journeyman carpenter with Neil Kelly Company, Cale Johnson, checks the plans for this new Habitat home.

The builders – Fish Construction NW, Neil Kelly, Noyes Development Co, Parr Lumber, and Schumacher Custom Homes…and local trades contractors and suppliers – are donating labor and materials to get these homes built within a mere 14 days.

But, it wasn’t only contractors who were swinging hammers on-site. Jeff Fish of Fish Construction NW was walking through the “his” Habitat house, inspecting it as if it were a custom high-end home.

“I’ve been building since 1972,” Fish told East Portland News. I think everybody ought to give back to the community that they serve. Habitat for Humanity is building homes; and this is the industry that I’ve been involved in for most of my life.

“So, I feel good about being able to directly contribute my skill,” Fish smiled.

Jeff Fish of Fish Construction NW says he’s pleased to see the quality workmanship in the Habitat home his firm has sponsored.

Asked what he found unique about participating in the “building blitz”, Fish didn’t hesitate to answer.

“One of the fun things about this project is that almost all of my subcontractors know each other. Usually the plumber or the electrician wants the house all to themselves for the day.

“Out here, they’re working together,” Fish pointed out. “I’ve seen a plumber ask an electrician to drill a hole for him. Normally, you’d never see this on a job site. But here, they’re working like friends on a weekend project. It’s really fun to see them work together as ‘buddies for a cause’.”

Messinetti thanked Fish, pointing out that his company is the only builder who has participated in all four of the “building blitz” projects that have taken place over the last four years.

Work continues, almost nonstop, during the “building blitz”.

Not a give-away program
Even though professional homebuilders are constructing these Habitat houses, Messinetti said that the respective homeowner families have been participating in the program for the past year. “All of our participants put in 500 hours of ‘sweat equity’, and these four families here, working during this two week period, have as well.”

The role that Habitat for Humanity plays is providing homes for very low income families who are hard-working, but just can’t afford a decent place to live, Messinetti said. “We provide them with the opportunity to buy a home, and then benefit from the civility and other benefits that come from homeownership.

Burmese refugee Sher Gay helps build this new home, which will soon belong to she and her family.

“We provide them with a 0% interest, nonprofit mortgage with Habitat,” Messinetti said. “So, they are buying a beautiful energy-efficient home that they pay off over 30 years. Often their payments are less than what they have been paying for rent. Remarkably, even through bad financial times, fewer that 1% of Habitat homeowners have defaulted on their loans.”

Right then, suddenly all the work stopped, and the contractors and volunteers streamed north to a large tent pitched at the street’s end, where lunch was being served, courtesy of NW Natural.

Chef Gabriel Hansen-Perez Executive Chef of Executive Catering, the official caterer for NW Natural, and NW Natural Community Relations Manager Darrell Nelson cook gourmet burgers for hungry construction workers.

“We’re here supporting this project,” said NW Natural Community Relations Manager Darrell Nelson, “because we want to help Habitat for Humanity create a healthier community by getting folks into a stable home they can afford. Helping these families provides great benefits for our city, both socially and economically.”

The Habitat for Humanity “Home Builders Blitz 2014” culminates on Friday, June 13, at high noon, when the four families will receive keys to their new homes at the Home Dedication Ceremony. The ceremony will feature Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, and “This Old House” TV host, Steve Thomas. The public is invited to attend.

Find out more about Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro East by visiting their website: CLICK HERE.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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