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Dilapidated houses could add to affordable housing

Columbia County considers transferring foreclosed homes to CAT for affordable housing projects

In 2010, Columbia County foreclosed on two homes due to unpaid property taxes. Four years later, they couldn’t get rid of the homes at a public auction.

Now, the homes could be the latest inventory in an affordable housing program that allows new owners to acquire the homes, partially through sweat equity.

Columbia County Commissioners Tony Hyde and Henry Heimuller considered the benefits of transfering a small, dilapidated house on North 10th Street in St. Helens, along with another home in need of repairs on 5th Street in Columbia City, to Community Action Team. CAT is a nonprofit agency focused on providing affordable housing solutions, preventing homelessness and providing temporary assistance to those in need of help with utility and monthly housing payments.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - A house on 10th Street in St. Helens has sat vacant for at least the last six years. It needs repairs, but with a little work, it and one other property could be the latest boon for an affordable housing program. The two homes were both acquired by the county through tax foreclosure in 2010, Sarah Hanson, an attorney for Columbia County, said Wednesday, Sept. 7, during a public hearing. Hanson said instead of trying to sell the homes again, the county could legally transfer ownership of the properties to a nonprofit organization, like CAT, for low-income housing purposes.

CAT could then offer the homes to a veteran or low-income family who can help fix up the house in exchange for purchasing it at a lower cost.

The program is not that far off from a Habitat for Humanity model that allows new owners to use sweat equity as partial payment for the home.

Casey Mitchell, a representative with CAT, said his organization experiences firsthand the county’s need for more housing. Mitchell said the property transfer could help CAT address some of those needs.MITCHELL

“We’re pretty excited about this,” Mitchell told commissioners Wednesday. “We’re in a situation where we get vouchers to house vets that we can’t utilize. Instead of a veteran moving out of a tent into a house, he stays in a tent. ...This isn’t gonna fix everything, but this is a great first step. We need more units on the ground.”

Mitchell said CAT qualifies for grants through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which help with repair costs and any costs CAT would have to pay to the county. USDA also provides financing for the sale of homes in the sweat equity program.

He said CAT could opt to offer the homes for sale using that model or rehab them and use them for long-term rental units geared toward seniors.

Commissioner Earl Fisher was absent Wednesday. Hyde and Heimuller opted not to vote after Wednesday’s hearing, but signaled support for the proposal and directed county staff to proceed with the transfer.

Heimuller, who also serves on CAT’s board of directors, noted a potential conflict of interest, but touted the benefits of sweat equity programs.

“You would walk into the house and see a husband and wife in their twenties ... nailing up the sheetrock and putting new windows up in this house they’re gonna live in,” Heimuller said. “Probably with two minimum-wage jobs and a couple of kids, they would never be able to dream of homeownership. ...To get someone who’s impoverished back into a home of their

own, seems like a really great fit.”

Hyde also commended the program, calling it a “great use of county resources.”