by: Jim Clark, Workers from Reilly Signature Homes help build the house for the Snyder family.

On the escalator of life, Katharine Snyder has made many stops.

The 42-year-old East County resident became a single parent after leaving an abusive marriage, overcame health issues and weathered sporadic unemployment.

But today, June 8, Snyder and her 9-year-old son, Logan, will exit the escalator at the top floor.

'I never thought this would happen,' Snyder said, grinning while she watched workers install cabinets and finish painting the interior of her new home.

'This is a chance for me to have something nobody can take from me. I've been through domestic violence and other things, but it doesn't have to keep you down. As long as I pay my mortgage, this is all mine.'

Snyder is one of four families who received keys to new homes built during Habitat for Humanity's four-day Home Builders Blitz 2012.

Construction began Saturday, June 2, culminating with a home dedication ceremony for the families today.

Professional builders with Fish Construction NW, Neil Kelly, Reilly Signature Homes and Schumacher Custom Homes volunteered their time, materials and talent to build four homes in four days on Southeast 171st Avenue off Division Street.

The event is part of Habitat for Humanity's one-week nationwide building blitz, during which time 200 family dwellings will be built across the country for Habitat families.

Steve Messinetti, chief executive officer for Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East, said the partnership with local builders enables the organization to aid more families beyond the usual 25 homes Habitat constructs each year.

'What's unique about this (project) is that we have professional builders working on the homes,' Messinetti said. 'Usually, the process takes longer because it's done by non-professional volunteers. This is the third time we've done a blitz like this, and having the professional builders is really good for our program.'

Habitat for Humanity International is a not-for-profit organization that provides housing to qualified families one step away from homelessness. Founded in 1976 by Millard and Linda Fuller, Habitat for Humanity is based on the concept of 'partnership housing,' where those in need of adequate shelter work side-by-side with volunteers to build simple, affordable homes.

Applicants go through an extensive approval process, which is based on their need for housing and their income. Families also must be willing to put in 500 hours of 'sweat equity' between the time they are approved and when the house sale closes. In return, families pay a 1-percent down payment on the home and a zero-interest mortgage. Since the houses are built by volunteers and sold at cost value, Habitat uses the funds to purchase additional land and build more homes.

Need for housing has increased

Leah O'Bryant, homeownership program assistant with AmeriCorps, said the number of families meeting Habitat's qualifications has exceeded the number of homes available during the recent economic downturn.

'We had approximately 400 families attend our last application information session,' she said. 'It's a requirement that the family member who will be applying for a home be there to get the application.

'We had 294 families take home applications after that meeting. It really comes down to who is in the greatest need and lowest risk to (not) make their payments.'

Sweat equity for those selected for a Habitat home also is designed to make responsible homeowners. Not only do families spend time on the construction site - painting, helping lift walls or performing laborer duties - they also attend homeowner classes, where they learn about the financial commitment and how to maintain their new home.

'We encourage people to be on the construction site, so they're invested in their home,' O'Bryant said. 'But since we look at it that we're the builder and the banker, we're also looking for a longer relationship beyond the year it usually takes to build the home. And through the classes they take as part of their sweat equity, they get acquainted with their neighbors so they're already a community by the time they move in.'

Snyder won't be sorry to leave the multi-level townhouse she now lives in. Her new 1,173-square-foot ranch-style home will make life easier for her, especially because she recently was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

'The townhouse is horrible,' she said. 'It's up and down the stairs, and that's hard when you're carrying groceries. This will be so nice because everything is on one level. And the driveway is right near the front door, so it won't be so far to walk.'

Snyder also is no stranger to Habitat projects, having spent time on previous construction sites for other families. Looking at the sign featuring a photo of herself and her son posted in front of her home, Snyder was a little emotional talking about the garden she intends to plant and her new neighborhood.

'All the families have been out here working together, and we're already planning a block party,' she said. 'But I never thought this would ever happen to me. I never want to leave. We're going to do so much to this house.'

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