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Builders wield fast nail guns in Habitat blitz build

Weeklong project will add 5 Habitat for Humanity homes to Lents neighborhood
by: Kevin Harden, 
A crew from Buena Vista Custom Homes in Lake Oswego hustles to frame one of five Habitat for Humanity houses being built last Friday in the Lents Neighborhood of Portland. Five builders took part in the “blitz build” project for the Portland Habitat chapter.

You know that feeling you get watching 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' and seeing how excited the family is when that big new house is revealed on national television?

That's how Sam Portesi expects to feel some time about now. And he won't have to shout, 'Move that bus!'

Portesi is part of a Habitat for Humanity 'blitz build' project constructing five new homes in the Lents neighborhood for Portland-area low-income families. He is with Buena Vista Custom Homes of Lake Oswego, one of five builders taking part in the Portland project.

Work began early Friday morning on the five houses on Southeast Ogden Street near 80th Avenue and was expected to be completed by now. Portesi's house was scheduled to be completed by Monday as about 100 people from Buena Vista Custom Homes scrambled throughout the weekend to frame the house, install plumbing and electrical systems, construct a roof and sheetrock the interior.

It's a fast-moving project that Portesi thinks is as close to the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition experience as you can get without being on TV.

'There's the excitement of doing it like this,' he said. 'Everyone nowadays watches that 'Extreme Makeover' show and sees what they do there. The great thing is, when you have the finished product and you hand over the keys to the new owner, you're giving them their dream.'

The Lents neighborhood project is one of dozens of blitz builds in cities across the country, where 263 Habitat for Humanity homes will be constructed in about a week. Nearly 1,000 people who live in substandard housing will soon have new homes thanks to the project, said Maria Eby, marketing and special events manager for the Portland Habitat for Humanity chapter.

During the project, city building inspectors will be on hand to check all the things necessary to keep work moving at a rapid clip.

Is there competition among the five builders to see who can finish first? Sort of, said Portesi.

'They say there isn't, but there is. It's friendly competition.'

Besides Buena Vista Custom Homes, the Portland project is being built by Intex Custom Homes of Beaverton, LHL Homes of Portland, Schumacher Custom Homes of Portland and Fish Construction NW of Portland.

The houses are on five lots at 8036 to 8054 S.E. Ogden St. The lots were purchased by Portland Habitat for Humanity with help from the Portland Development Commission. It's the second Habitat project in the Lents neighborhood, Eby said.

All the labor, the material and the construction time is being donated by the five builders and 170 companies across the region, Eby said. That's a big deal, especially because the housing construction market has started to shrivel in the face of high fuel prices and mortgage foreclosures, she said.

'The economy hasn't been so great this year, and for these builders to find the donations and do the work themselves while their own industry is struggling, that's a big deal to us,' Eby said.

Portesi said the Buena Vista crew, which ranged from two dozen Friday to about 100 over the weekend, was all donated labor that could add up to tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

Each of the houses will be sold to families earning anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 a year. The families buy the houses at cost with a zero-percent mortgage. As part of the deal, they must put in 500 hours of community service to Habitat projects to qualify for the new homes.

The Home Builders Blitz was started in 2002 by Tom Gipson, a Raleigh, N.C., builder. Gipson rallied other contractors for an accelerated build, which was so successful that Habitat for Humanity International decided to promote it as a nationwide event.

The Lents neighborhood event culminates at 3 p.m. Friday, June 6, when the five families will receive keys to their new homes at a dedication ceremony, a sanctioned event of the Portland Rose Festival.

Two years ago, contractors working with Portland Habitat for Humanity constructed four houses in a similar blitz build in the New Columbia neighborhood of North Portland, Eby said. Buena Vista, Fish Construction NW and LHL Homes also participated in that project and were happy to join in this year, she said.

'The quality of homes is going to be amazing,' Eby said.