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St. Helens gives Habitat for Humanity a break on fees

Construction fees waived completely for next project


Habitat for Humanity has more than 1,500 affiliates nationwide which have collectively built 500,000 houses here and abroad. But thanks to cooperation with the St. Helens City Council, the Columbia County branch of the nonprofit organization has become one of the few affiliates to have successfully worked at a local level to lower building fees.

Columbia County Habitat for Humanity president Boyd Ruby had requested the City Council completely waive all new construction costs.

In recognition of CCHH’s efforts to provide more affordable housing throughout the county, the council agreed to waive system development charges and water and sewer connection fees completely.

The council did not opt to reduce building permit fees or school excise taxes.

The council clarified this agreement is not a precedent, but will apply to CCHH’s next project.

Construction of the next CCHH home will begin in spring, said CCHH board member Bill Blank.

The council said it would decide whether to allow similar waivers on future CCHH projects on a case-by-case basis.

“I was kind of in shock, to tell you the truth,” said Boyd. “I didn’t expect that great of a reduction. I was asking for the total, but I never expected to get it.”

A life-changing project

Debbie Rye hadn’t heard of Habitat for Humanity when it established its Columbia County affiliate little more than 10 years ago, but now the mother of four describes her involvement with the organization “like winning the lottery.”

In 2000, Rye was a single mother working full time at Safeway, where she is still employed. She was receiving public assistance to afford rent on an apartment. Growing up, her family had always rented.

Two years later, she and her four sons were living in a 1,075 square-foot, three-bedroom, two-story house with 2.5 bathrooms, thanks to CCHH.

The nonprofit was established in 1976 with the aim of providing affordable housing for families who are themselves involved in the building process. According to Ruby, eligible families fall into a very specific category.

“The working poor,” he explained, meaning those with a working income that is too low to cover a house payment.

Once a family is accepted into the program, they must invest “sweat equity” into the construction of their house. A single-parent is obligated to commit 300 hours, while a two-adult family is required to put in 500 hours.

Habitat for Humanity relies largely on donations of money and land, and depends heavily on skilled volunteers.

Construction of a habitat home in Columbia County takes about a year on average. Upon completion, the organization essentially sells the house to the partner family at a price that is approximately half the house’s assessed market value, Boyd explained.

“And then over a period of the life of a loan, usually 20 years, we forgive one-twentieth of the mortgage every year,” Boyd said.

According to Rye, who is now a CCHH board member, the families’ monthly payment includes a zero-interest loan, home owner’s insurance and taxes. Rye’s payment, set in 2001, comes to $460 — half of what she had been paying in rent on an apartment.

It is a life-changing arrangement, Rye said.

“It was a total lifesaver,” she said, “it’s the only way that my kids have a home, because of Habitat.”