‘Sweat equity’ lets 16 families become homeowners in Lents

The smiles you’ll see on this family’s faces tell the story. Read this story and learn how a group turns low-income renters into homeowners ‚Äì but makes participants work long and hard for the privilege ‚Ķ

Celebrating one of sixteen new homes in Lents is (back row) Steve Messinetti, executive director Portland Habitat for Humanity, new “sweat equity” homeowners Thomas and Luda Le, Bill Goodale; (front row) homeowner’s kids Jasmine and Taylor Le and Carol Goodale. The Goodales are the Le’s Habitat for Humanity “family supporters”.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The day for moving in to their new home has been a year in the making for the Le family. And, “making” isn’t a figurative term. We’ve followed the activities of the Le family as they’ve lifted walls, hammered, and painted their home at the newly-completed Portland Habitat for Humanity project.

The coming winter season, foreshadowed by wind-blown rain at the project’s Sept. 14 dedication party, made the Le family all the more eager to cozy into their brand new town home, just off SE 82nd Ave. of Roses in the Lents Neighborhood.

A home built with love
Thomas Le smiled and invited us into his family’s new home on SE Lambert St. He told us he’d been accumulating his “sweat equity” by working on his and other Portland Habitat for Humanity projects since 2003.

“This home is built with love,” Le told us. “A lot of volunteers went out of their way to help us build our new home. Our children will have a place to call home; they’ll have their own rooms. I think it helps children do better in school when they know they have a home of their own.”

“It was fun and exciting,” Thomas’ wife, Lyudmila, confided. “I did hammering, putting up walls, and painting. I feel real ownership. I think we will have a better family life here.”

Young Taylor Le welcomes us into his family’s new home.

Opportunity, not a hand-out
When we came upon Steve Messinetti, Executive Director Portland Habitat for Humanity, he reminded us that only a year ago, the two of us were standing together in a vacant field. “Within days, sixteen families, 65 people, will be moving into their decent homes here. It was made possible by 30,000 volunteer hours, and generous donations of individuals and firms.”

The organization’s mission, Messinetti reminded us, is helping hard-working, but struggling, families move out of substandard housing and into a decent home. “Even more important, they’re buying the home and investing in their futures ‚Äì and the futures of their children. So, the kids that move into this house will have financial stability, and eventually, equity that gets passed on to them.”

It works like this, Messinetti said: All Habitat families put in 500 hours of “sweat equity” toward their home, and purchase their home at cost with a zero-interest, 1% down payment mortgage. Their mortgage payments, based on 25% of their income, pay into a revolving “Fund for Humanity” used to build more homes in the Portland area.

Messinetti said they’re planning to build more houses in the Lents neighborhood; they’re currently negotiating for property. “And, we also received a commitment from the Portland Development Commission to fund the buying of more land in Lents over the next three months, to build ten more houses this coming year. We will build wherever we are able to get affordable land in a decent community.”

Dinner in the rain

Large tents, filling the development’s driveway, kept celebrants dry at the project’s dedication and dinner.

The rain showers and chilly wind didn’t dampen the dedication ceremony for this new housing development. The local owners of Romano’s Macaroni Grill restaurants, “Waterloo Restaurant Ventures”, paid to have huge tents erected in the project’s driveway.

During his brief remarks at the dedication ceremony, Messinetti told the assembly this project came in on time, and $10,000 under budget.

A full, three-course dinner was served, under tents, by the franchise owners of Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and the restaurants’ employees and managers.

More than 200 people, including new homeowners, friends, Portland Habitat for Humanity volunteers, sponsors and donors tucked into full-course hot dinner provided by Romano’s Macaroni Grill.

“Why this generosity?” we asked of Barry McGowen, the CEO “Waterloo Restaurant Ventures”.

“We’re a locally-owned company,” McGowen told us. “We believe it’s important to give back to the communities our restaurants are rooted in. Habitat for Humanity executes their mission well; they bring decent homes to people in our community. I, and the thousand team members we employ, understand this. We’re honored to be part of this great program.”

Habitat for Humanity volunteers Bob Bothman and his wife Jacquie.

At dinner, we sat with Habitat for Humanity volunteers: Civil engineer and retired director of ODOT Bob Bothman and his wife Jacquie. In addition to Portland-area projects, the couple told us they also work each year on projects outside the area, most recently in Kirgizstan, New Orleans, and New Zealand.

Ray Hites, board member of Lents Neighborhood Association

A familiar face present was that of Ray Hites, board member of Lents Neighborhood Association. “In the past, I worked with Habitat for Humanity projects in Portland,” Hites said. “When they came to Lents, I couldn’t pass up to opportunity to help out. It makes homeownership affordable to good people. Given that many people here are low income, I think encouraging more home ownership helps make the neighborhood more stable. Home owners have an investment in the neighborhood.”

New homeowner Thomas Le speaks at the Habitat for Humanity dedication.

Thomas Le was chosen to speak at the dedication ceremony. “I’ve finished [my sweat equity hours], but I still put in a little more time to help others. This is good program. This is wonderful: People, gathered together, with open hearts, building communities. I don’t see this very often. Even though we have different backgrounds, we all help each other like a big family.”

If you are interested in becoming part of the Portland Habitat for Humanity “family”, or would like to become a homeowner under their program, find out more at www.pdxhabitat.org; or call them at (503) 287-9529.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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