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Habitat for Humanity raising millions for new area homes

Group begins largest campaign with builder’s contribution

Habitat for Humanity has launched its first Portland-area capital campaign, setting a goal of $12 million to build nearly two dozen homes in Portland and Gresham. It’s a big push for the local homebuilding organization. “For us, it’s huge,” says Steve Messinetti, executive director of Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East. “This is the first time we’re having a well-orchestrated campaign. We’ve never had anything we’ve called a campaign before.” Local developer and philanthropist John Gray ignited the campaign, known as A World of Hope: It Starts at Home, with a $1 million commitment. That was followed by gifts of $350,000 from the Meyer Memorial Trust, $250,000 from the Ann and Bill Swindells Charitable Trust and $225,000 from Walsh Construction. “Gray’s donation was a big surprise, really,” says Messinetti. “He legitimized our effort. People who know him know he doesn’t give without doing his homework first.” The campaign begins at a critical time of sagging land prices and soaring need in Oregon. With Habitat receiving more than double the number of housing applications absorbed in 2010, Messinetti hopes to address the demand through record low-buy opportunities. Stable housing, Messinetti says, helps the community by decreasing student mobility, a problem that’s risen to 60 percent at some local schools. Habitat recently purchased 45 lots at Southeast 171st Avenue and Division Street in the Centennial School District for slightly less than $1.5 million. It will be the largest Habitat build in Oregon history. According to Habitat staff, the project will house 100 to 130 children and require the help of hundreds of volunteers. Most of the money for the lots came from a federal stimulus package called the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. “I think it’s a great idea if we can get more families with homes out here,” says Cheryl Bratcher, office administrator at Lynch Wood Elementary School on Southeast 174th. “We have a pretty transient population. It’s hard on students.” Families who make $21,600 to $43,200 annually meet Habitat’s criteria and will be able to apply for housing in the area. The Habitat model offers homes to families of four or more who contribute 500 hours of labor to the construction of the house. Down payments are 1 percent of zero-interest mortgages. Local residents of the neighborhood generally support the project, Messinetti believes. “The neighbors are thrilled. Right now the space is just vacant, and we’re looking at putting in a playground and garden,” he says. “Portland is a pretty progressive community — people here want the city to be livable for all income levels.”