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HOST helps unlock doors

As 300th family settles into group's new housing, nonprofit aims to keep building on success
by: JIM CLARK, Alisha and Darryl Kelley, with kids M’Ryah, 20 months, and Malik, 5, and dog Sir, recently moved into their house at New Columbia. The family had all but given up on their house hunt when they heard about a nonprofit called HOST that deals in low-income housing, and has a goal of building and selling 1,000 new homes over the next 12 years.

Darryl Kelley was disturbed when he first heard that Columbia Villa was being torn down.

Kelley spent much of his childhood in the low-income North Portland housing development and had fond memories of it.

'I drove by my old home after it had been fenced off several times. I thought they were destroying my childhood,' said Kelley, a social worker.

But now Kelley has changed his mind. He and his wife, Alisha, and their two children have moved into his old neighborhood as first-time homeowners.

The Kelley family now lives in a new house built by HOST Development, the nonprofit organization that helped rebuild the area as New Columbia, a mixed-income housing complex.

'We didn't think we'd be able to afford our own home, but HOST worked with us and now we have our own place,' said Alisha Kelley, who is attending college.

In fact, the Kelleys are the 300th family to buy a home in Portland through HOST. The event was marked last Tuesday with a celebration at HOST's offices in New Columbia, where board Chairman Ted Gilbert outlined an ambitious goal for the organization - creating 1,000 new Portland homeowners with 2,000 children by 2017.

Gilbert said the project - called the Building Blocks campaign - is necessary because rising Portland home prices are forcing young families to move to the suburbs.

'We want to reverse the family flight out of Portland that is reducing enrollment in the public schools,' Gilbert said.

Gilbert is a for-profit rental developer. He and three other real estate professionals - Ross Day, Charles Conrow and Jerry Mason - founded HOST 10 years ago to rehabilitate and sell abandoned and foreclosed houses to first-time buyers.

Over the past decade, HOST has attracted dozens of sponsors and programs, including such financial institutions as U.S. Bank, Bank of America, Umpqua Bank and Sterling Savings Bank.

HOST stands for Home Ownership a Street at a Time. It allows people and families earning the median family income or less to buy homes for which they would not otherwise qualify.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has determined the median income for a family of four in the Portland area is $66,900 a year - far less than necessary to secure a conventional loan for a median-priced home of $279,000.

HOST bridges the gap in three ways. First, because the organization does not have to make a profit, it is able to build new homes that cost around $200,000. Second, it educates potential home buyers on how to manage their money and qualify for financing. And third, HOST works with partner banks to help secure the loans.

'We call it enlightened capitalism,' Gilbert said.

The Kelley family is a good example. Both David and Alisha graduated from Portland high schools before leaving the area. They moved back to Vancouver, Wash., several years ago and began shopping for a home in Portland.

However, because they currently have only one income, the Kelleys were having a difficult time finding a home they could afford. Then they were referred to HOST.

'We had really given up on owning a home until we heard about HOST,' Alisha Kelley said.

In time, building goes faster

Columbia Villa was built in 1942 for World War II defense workers. It was converted to 462 low-income housing units administered by the Housing Authority of Portland after the war.

In 2001, HUD awarded HAP a $35 million HOPE VI grant to replace Columbia Villa with a new, mixed-income neighborhood.

When it is finished, New Columbia will have 370 public housing units, 190 affordable rental units, 60 elderly rental units and 230 new homeownership units - including 81 affordable homes built and sold by HOST. They are selling for between $175,000 and $220,000.

The New Columbia housing is part of a HOST's trend in accelerating construction. According to Gilbert, it took the organization eight years to build its first 100 homes, four years to build its next 100 homes and two and a half years to build its last 100 homes.

To achieve the goal of building and selling 1,000 new homes in 12 years, the Building Blocks campaign aims to raise $10 million.

The funds will be used to buy the land for the homes throughout the city, HOST Executive Director John Miller said. Finding developable tracts of land is essential to HOST's mission of revitalizing neighborhoods.

Now construction's clustered

Although HOST was founded to rehabilitate individual homes, it has evolved over the years to building clusters of new homes.

HOST built 81 homes in New Columbia. It has plans to build 54 homes near Northeast 64th Avenue and Killingsworth Street, 18 homes near Northeast 20th Avenue and Killingsworth Street and 16 homes near North Williams Avenue and Sumner Street.

According to Miller, the recent slowdown in the housing market has created opportunities for HOST to buy the property it needs to build 1,000 new homes.

'When the real estate market was hot, land was locked up. But now developers are letting their options lapse and we have an opportunity to buy parcels that are large enough to hold the number of homes we want to build,' said Miller, explaining that Southeast Portland is an especially promising part of town.

At last week's gathering, Gilbert said the campaign already had secured commitments of $3.1 million, thanks in large part to contributions from its banking partners and the Meier Memorial Trust.

For information on HOST, visit the Web site www.hostdevelopment.com.

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