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Habitat for Humanity Invests Big in the Future of Portland's Low-Income East Side

Starting in 2009, in the middle of the recession and a depressed real estate market, Habitat for Humanity, the nonprofit housing group, was betting and investing big in Portland's low-income east side. Habitat was buying vacant land on the cheap, shopping from banks in repossession and at foreclosure sales to squirrel away land for future housing projects. Now, three years later, the first 22 homes in the largest Habitat project in Oregon history — a 65-unit subdivision left partly built by a private developer who abandoned it when the market crashed — are rising on Portland’s east side. Habitat, meanwhile, has become the 10th-largest home builder in the Portland metropolitan area by housing volume, and even more dominant on the lower-income east side. Moreover, Habit purchased 150 vacant lots for its "land bank," which will keep the group busy for five years or more, even as it has increased its home-building output by 50 percent, to 30 homes a year from 20.

Importantly, the scale and scope of the new Habitat projects will allow entire blocks on the east side to be anchored by owner-occupied housing. Those owners, under Habitat’s model, would earn 30 percent to 60 percent of the median Portland area household income (around $20,000 to $40,000 a year for a family of four), living in homes they helped build themselves, and paying down their mortgages with zero-interest nonprofit loans. Indeed, Habitat’s “Home Builders Blitz” is happening now in SE Portland, where new homeowners put in 500 hours of “sweat equity” to earn their new homes and local home builders are donating tens of thousands of dollars worth of materials and supplies for the new homes, a major contribution in a down economy.

The investment in Portland by Habitat is filling the gap in the city’s low-income housing left by the recession's toll on the city's budget, improving struggling east side neighborhoods, and providing those in need with a home that they can live in for years to come. These "new" neighborhoods may also attract retailers and other commercial "investors" to develop in and around these Habitat neighborhoods, hopefully adding a little fuel to the recovery.

See the NY Times article on the project here.

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