Volunteers tame overgrown back yard for new homeowner

See how the Proud Ground organization helps folks do more than just change from renters into homeowners. It’s pretty cool how they installed an ‘urban farm’ for this outer East Portland resident …

With a back yard this size, the new homeowner gets help from Proud Ground volunteers help turning this huge back yard into an urban farm.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
We’ve brought you stories about how the Portland-based land trust organization Proud Ground has helped turn renters into homeowners.

> See our story about how volunteers got this Parkrose Proud Ground house ready for sale earlier this year: CLICK HERE.

Proud Ground’s Deputy Director, Kathy Armstrong, invited us out to a home on SE 146th Avenue, to see the progress volunteers were making on another kind of project.

“We’re here today helping one of our new homeowners ‘tame’ her half-acre yard,” Armstrong said at the August 20 event. “It’s a home that we purchased with federal stimulus money through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.”

Proud Ground volunteer Nelda Newton, from Wells Fargo bank, shovels bark chips for a new play area.

Volunteer Heather Howerton, also with Wells Fargo, spreads bark dust in the preschool play area.

As is its practice, Proud Ground renovated the home, and sold it affordably to a new homeowner. Armstrong explained, “Because she could buy it for about $115,000, she has a great place for her home-based preschool here. She’s also putting in an urban farm. We’re helping her build a new chicken coop and putting in the garden beds, and she is putting in an orchard.”

While the organization typically buys and sells average-size homes on average-size lots, Proud Ground found that this residence, with its huge back yard, exactly met the new owner’s needs.

Wells Fargo Bank volunteers Sam Gray, Albert Passadore, and Tom Unger erect a new chicken coop.

“One of Proud Ground’s ultimate goals is to make sure homeowners are successful in their home-ownership experience,” Armstrong explained. “We make sure that they have affordable monthly payments; it’s a success that she’s paying less now than she was previously paying for rent. But also, ‘success’ means getting your giant half acre yard under control. That’s why we’re here today.”

Because Proud Ground operates under the Community Land Trust model, when the home is resold a percentage of the appreciation stays with the house – keeping it affordable for the next buyer. The selling homeowner gets a percentage of the appreciation, Armstrong added – giving them an incentive to keep up, or improve, the property, during the time they own it.

New homeowner Melissa Schaefer holds Julia, the little sister of one of her students, and smiles, as she watches volunteers help transform part of her back yard into a safe preschool playground.

The new homeowner, Melissa Schaefer, watched as a couple dozen volunteers carried, built, preened, and farmed her back yard.

“It’s amazing,” Schaefer said. “This has combined a lot of my dreams, and made them possible. I’d planned to buy a house, live there a few years, and then sell and buy land outside the city. Now, I can have a garden, a small orchard, and operate the preschool – all right here!”

Her idea, Schaefer told us, was to make the property “a really positive space in the community, and make a positive contribution to the world. Volunteers are helping make the swing set and climbing area safer, the chicken coop more manageable – and we’ll be able to grow a lot of food with the families and friends out in our back yard.”

Proud Ground volunteers pause for a group photo, before heading back to work.

If you’re tired of being a renter, Schaefer advised, “Check out ‘Proud Ground’. They do more than housing. They’ve really made a positive change in my life.”

To learn more, see Proud Ground’s website: CLICK HERE.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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