New start for Island City family of five
- Trish Yerges
ELGIN Habitat for Humanity not only builds homes, but also self-respect and the hope of a better life for families in need.
For Jesse and Lindy Collins of Island City, being selected as a qualifying family for a Habitat home means a new life for them and their three young children.
They presently live in a two-bedroom home and pay $650 in monthly rent. Jesse works a 70-hour week and Lindy is a stay-at-home mother who occasionally offers daycare for other children.
"We were overcrowded and didn't have credit for a larger home," said Lindy.
Their new, three-bedroom, 1,050-square-foot home on 19th and Birch Street in Elgin will remedy both of their problems.
Habitat homes are built with the help of grants, community contributions of money and materials provided at cost. The labor is performed by volunteers, except for the electrical, plumbing and heating contractors who bid on the job.
For the Collinses' home building project, HFH received a $25,000 grant from the Ford Family Foundation. The organization and the homeowners have until June 30, 2008, to raise matching funds. When the house is completed, the homeowners repay HFH for the building costs, a mortgage payment without profit or interest included. The family is also responsible for paying annual taxes and home owner's insurance. Payments are affordable and allow more room in the family budget for other living expenses.
"Our house payment will be no more than 20 percent of our income. That's less than half of what we pay now for rent. It's not a hand-out, but a hand up," said Lindy.
She and her husband have worked on their house since last fall and hope to move in before the end of this year. So far, they have logged more than the 500 hours of sweat equity construction hours Habitat requires, and they will complete classes in home maintenance and credit counseling.
"The idea is we're not building houses, we're building families, and we want to help these families keep and maintain their new homes," said Fred Erickson, president of the Grande Ronde Valley affiliate of HFH.
The Collins house is the fourth Habitat home to be built in Union County since the GRV affiliate was established in 1998. Two others were previously built in Elgin and one renovation was completed in Island City.
All the homes incorporate energy-saving features such as gas-efficient furnaces and insulated water heaters. Construction materials chosen for the Habitat homes are mid-range in quality and price.
"After the house is done, Habitat will lay down a gravel driveway, put up a storage shed, landscape the yard and plant one tree," said Lindy.
The appearance and value of the Habitat homes benefit communities, Erickson said. Sub-standard properties are replaced with decent, clean and safe homes. Their appearance gives the neighborhood a facelift, and Habitat homes also add to the tax rolls. Most importantly, it gives families a renewed sense of dignity through labor, education and ownership.
Erickson said he'd like to see community enthusiasm grow for the Habitat home building projects. So far, volunteers on the Collinses' home have numbered over 30 individuals including Dave and Nancy Dahlstrom of Union, their son, Darin, a roofer from Hood River, and Lindy's father, Ted Rorden of Union.
"It feels great to help build this house. Lindy and Jesse really need it. A lot of people in this valley need a step up. I firmly believe in Habitat for Humanity. Union County needs this kind of thing, and the county needs to get behind it. It's for the working middle class," said Rorden.
Land for Habitat homes is usually bequeathed, and the organization welcomes more gifts of this kind, said Erickson. The land next to the Collins house will be a future site for a Habitat home, he added.
"Donated materials have also been greatly appreciated," said Erickson, "but we could use some top soil for the Collins' yard."
Erickson's involvement with the GRV-Habitat for Humanity affiliate began three years ago after retiring from the Elgin plywood mill where he had worked for almost 40 years. He was invited to serve on the board of directors.
"At first I wasn't sure I wanted to, but after I went to the meeting and read their mission statement, I got involved right away," he said.
Initially, he served as a site supervisor. Then last spring he became president of the GRV affiliate. Now, when he's not working on the construction site, he can often be found handling HFH business from a small office in the rear of the Island City Public Works Department which has been donated and maintained by the city.
"I like what we stand for. It makes me feel excited to build reasonably affordable housing for families in need. It's a very gratifying job," said Erickson.
As for the Collins family, their gratitude extends to all the volunteers and community donors who helped them build their home.
"This house means a new start, a new beginning for my family," said Jesse as he applied more caulking to the house siding.
For more information or to donate time, talent or resources to the Grande Ronde Valley Habitat for Humanity, call 963-5947 or mail donations to Habitat for Humanity, PO Box 111, La Grande 97850.