More than $226,000 raised! Thanks to everyone!

Thank you to all of our sponsors, volunteers, table hosts and guests for making our 10th annual HopeBuilder Breakfast a huge success. More than $226,000 was raised at the event. Every dollar will go towards building more homes for hardworking families in need. In case you missed the event or weren’t able to attend, you can read the amazing family stories below and learn about our executive director’s vision of a truly livable community.

Click here to view the brief documentary that we presented at the breakfast. The video tells the story of one of Habitat’s partner families and their struggle to escape poverty housing.

Read the Speeches:

More Than Houses, Steve Messinetti

I Will Never Be Homeless Again, Denice Palfrey

Building Foundations, Julia Mines

More Than Houses

Steve Messinetti, Executive Director
Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East

What Kind of City Do You Want to Live in?

I know the kind of city I want to live in. It’s a city where people are proud of the quality of life they enjoy. It’s a city that values vibrant neighborhoods, local businesses, public transportation and the nature around us.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like our city? We have an international reputation for being a sustainable and livable city. We have great green spaces, interesting neighborhoods, wonderful restaurants, art and music. We know it’s not perfect, but we have it pretty good, don’t we. But it’s the word livable that I get hung up on.

Think about your neighborhood, whether you live Gresham or Portland or Lake Oswego or Vancouver, I challenge you to look a little closer at your section of what we call our metro area. Can you remember the face of the clerk that checked you out at the grocery store last week? Or the security guard that said goodnight when you left your office last night? How about the wait staff at your favorite restaurant? There are so many people who help run our city that can no longer afford to live here.

Did you know that to afford an average price home here, even with the recent drop in home prices, a person needs to make about $68,000 a year? Homeownership is getting further and further out of reach. What this means is that my daughter’s grade school teacher can’t afford to buy a home. The police officer that patrols my neighborhood can’t afford to buy a home on his salary alone.

So if you can’t afford to buy a house, you can just rent, right? Not necessarily. Did you know that last year a two bedroom apartment here costs an average of $839 a month? To afford this a family needs to earn at least $16 an hour. That is more than what most security guards make, or wait staff or grocery clerks.

Just last week a report came out from The National Low Income Housing Coalition that shows that the cost of renting an apartment in Oregon has increased again. For these neighbors of ours, work is no longer working.

Livable, the very basic understanding of this word means that hardworking people can afford a place to go home to at the end of their work day. As a city, we are not there. We are not even close!

The Ripple Effect of Substandard Housing

So what are people doing to get by? They are spending huge portions of their income to pay the rent. Today in our city, one out of five families—and we are talking about working families, not people who are retired or unemployed—one out of every five are spending more than half their earnings to pay for the roof over their head.

If you’re a parent who is forced to choose between paying your rent or putting food on the table which would you choose? If you need gas to get to work and the heating bill is due, which would you choose? Oregon now has the second highest hunger rate in the country, only behind Mississippi. The Oregon Hunger Task force reports that the most important reason Oregonians are going hungry is the high cost of housing. I don’t know about you, but I want to live in a city where hard working moms and dads don’t have to live like this anymore.

I have seen what happens to kids when their parents are living paycheck to paycheck and the rent goes up. They move. Then they move again, until possibly one day they can’t find a low enough rent and they end up in someone else’s basement or sharing a small apartment with relatives. Statistics show that almost half of all families in our community move every 15 months primarily due to rising rents. This is wreaking havoc in our school systems as kids are yanked out of schools in the middle of the year because their family has to move.

Families are being forced to live in unhealthy conditions because it is all they can afford. The mold issues we see when visiting the trailer parks or apartments that our families are moving out of is deplorable. Our school system reports that the number one reason children are absent is because of respiratory problems or asthma.

I want to live in a livable city, where children don’t go hungry and where a child can live in the same place, and have the same friends, at the same school until they graduate. I want to live in a city where every child, no matter how they came into this world, has a decent place to lay their head at night.

Habitat for Humanity Is More Than Houses

So we have to ask ourselves as members of this community how can we make our livable city truly livable? I believe that the best way to strengthen communities is by investing in quality housing that’s affordable to people at all income levels. We’ve got to find a way to grow and develop without forcing out the hardworking people in our community that make it great.

While working for 10 years at Habitat for Humanity headquarters in Georgia, I had the opportunity to work closely with our founder Millard Fuller, who sadly passed away last year. But he wrote a book called More Than Houses in which he writes that “a house is to a family…what soil is to a plant. It is a place to be rooted, a foundation on which children can grow and develop.”

I really take this to heart and this is the reason I have dedicated the past 20 years of my life to this homebuilding movement. Habitat is more than houses. It is about making our cities livable by giving families a hand up in hard times so they can build equity for their family, and in turn help lift up the entire community.

For example, that single mom who’s working as a waitress downtown making $21,000 a year should be able to afford a decent place to raise her kids. So Habitat provides her the opportunity to buy a home with a 0%-interest mortgage. She in turn agrees to put in 500 hours of sweat equity helping build her home, and completes homebuyer readiness classes. Habitat is the lender on her mortgage, and we set her monthly payments so that they’re less than 30% of her income. Suddenly, still making her same wage, she has a financial investment in her family’s future with every mortgage payment she makes. And the great thing about Habitat is that every payment is used to help build the next home. I think the main reason we have a less than 1% foreclosure rate is that families know that making their payment, in full and on time, is a chance to pay forward the opportunity that was given to them.

Taking Advantage of Land Prices to Build for the Future

While our program has been successful, Oregon has been hit hard by the economic downturn, and I have seen a 50% increase in the number of families who come to us each year for help.

So when our staff and board got together last year to discuss our plans for the future we knew it was time to be bold. Our new five-year strategic plan sets the goal of increasing the number of families we serve annually by 50%, and to focus our building efforts in neighborhoods where we can have the greatest impact.

The foundation for this plan is to buy land now to support this increase in homebuilding while the prices are down. We’re finding properties for 40% less than we were purchasing land for just 18 months ago. We’ve already found great deals on properties for more than 120 homes in the areas we want to be building in—such as the Rockwood neighborhood in west Gresham and around Lents in southeast Portland. These neighborhoods are culturally rich, but have high percentages of families with low incomes, and low homeownership rates.

In Rockwood, the median household income is only $37,000, and it has a high rate of large families with school aged children. By providing the hardworking families who are already living in these neighborhoods, an opportunity to buy a stable, affordable home, they will become more invested in seeing the area improve. We’re about to complete a 23-home community in Rockwood, called Jubilee Commons, and upon completion we will have sold 50 homes in this neighborhood. Plus we’ve already identified two parcels of land in Rockwood where we hope to build our next 40 homes. That’s 90 families who will invest in their community, and over 250 children who will stay in the same school year after year.

In southeast Portland we have identified the properties for our next 100 homes and have already built 40 homes in the Lents neighborhood. Just think what impact these 140 families could make.

What This Means for You

Over the past 30 years, Habitat has been incredibly blessed by the generosity of this community which continues to remain strong. This allowed us to complete 21 more environmentally sustainable, green-certified homes this year. We’ve had an outpouring of thousands of volunteers who came out to the build sites, or volunteered in the office or at our ReStores. And 2010 will be a milestone year for Habitat in our state as we will be building the 1,000th Habitat home built in Oregon.

So what does this mean for you? How does this make your city more livable? It means that more homeowners are paying into the local tax base and becoming rooted in our community. It means children will not be constantly changing schools every time the rent goes up, bringing stability into the classroom. It means that families and children will be healthier because they are not living in places with mold, cold, and faulty electricity. It means that people will invest into their neighborhood because it is more than just a temporary residence, but a permanent home.

Think about it. When people love their homes, they naturally care about the block on which it sits. And when everyone on the block cares, then that is the kind of place where everyone wants to live.

Home is where children begin to develop a sense of who they are and the world around them. Home is where we find our faith, learn our values, and shape our character. It’s where we find security and form our most precious relationships. It is the soil in which many things root, grow and thrive.

Please join us as we strive toward this vision of a livable community where everyone has a decent and affordable place to call home.

I Will Never Be Homeless Again

Denice Palfrey, Future Habitat Homeowner

When Habitat asked me to tell my story, I started thinking about what I wanted to say. I don’t want to keep telling the story of who I was… that’s not who I am anymore. But to tell my story, I have to tell my past. I made some bad choices. Many years ago I was a strong independent person, at least that’s what I thought…

Until I met a man who I thought I loved, but he turned out to be very manipulative and abusive. I never thought I’d be a victim of abuse, but I let myself be destroyed to the point where I had no self-esteem and was abusing drugs and alcohol. I let my life slip away from me, and even when I had a daughter I could not seem to get on the right track. I had no job, no where to go, and I couldn’t seem to get away from the violence.

I knew I had to make a change in my life for me and my daughter; we left, leaving everything behind. It was hard. We were alone and homeless. I found a Christian-based 12-step life-transformation program called Sheppard’s Door that took me in and helped me to turn my life around. Through Sheppard’s Door I got many things back: my self esteem, a job, a place to live. It was time to start life over.

I am determined never to be homeless again. I currently live in subsidized housing, but that isn’t a permanent solution. I work full-time as a receptionist for the Department of Human Services, but every time I get a raise at work, my rent goes up and there is no way to save money. We barely have enough to make ends meet. When I heard about Habitat for Humanity my first thought was that Alexia would always have a place to call home. The Habitat community where our home will be is near our current apartment. I’ve met a lot of the families, and one family that lives there now watches Alexsa before and after school. She’s already made friends with other kids at Jubilee. The sense of community is an incredible feeling. All the families seem to know one another and they all know me and I don’t even live there yet!

To me Habitat means relief. We will have a place that is ours, and that Alexsa will have a safe, stable place to grow up in. Five years ago I had to walk away from the bad people in my life, I was totally alone. Today, I have a work community, a church community, and now I have a Habitat community. Once I move into my Habitat home my mortgage payment will never go up, which means that I can move up. I can start saving money for things we don’t have and make a better life for us. I hope to get a degree in criminal justice so I can help young people make better choices. I want Alexsa to continue school and learn to never make the bad choices I made.

Alexsa and I are at the beginning of a new life. She used to have nightmares, but now she is a happy 10-year-old girl. I want her to know that if you just keep making good choices and surrounding yourself with good people, blessings will come. We are so thankful to be a part of Habitat, and we are truly blessed.

Building Foundations

Julia Mines, Habitat Homeowner

Julia Mines has lived in her Habitat for Humanity home in southeast Portland for three years with her partner Fred, her sister, Gail, her son, Robert her grandson, Ajani, and their dog, Bugsy. Julia is an alcohol and drug counselor for dual diagnosis homeless clients with Central City Concern.

Julia recited the poem Mother to Son by Langston Hughes, which was deeply meaningful to her. She said that trying to keep her family safe while living in substandard housing was a full-time job and, at the time, life was full of splinters and bare.

“There was a time when life for me was no crystal stair,” Julia said, overcome with emotion. “But I’m climbin’.”

She found Habitat as a fluke. She drove a friend to a Habitat application meeting and ended up applying herself. She says living in a Habitat home is a blessing. Having a stable, affordable 0%-interest mortgage has allowed her to save money for the first time in her life, and she has been able to pay off most of her debts.

However, she said the biggest reward of being a Habitat homeowner is that her 7-year-old grandson will always have a permanent address—something others may take for granted. She never wants him to move from place to place because of high rent. Her grandson was born after Julia was accepted into the Habitat program, and that is his one and only home. She says Ajani is a happy little boy.

Owning a home has also allowed Julia’s sister, a six-year leukemia survivor, to move in with her.

Julia is excited to be pursing a degree in human development at Warner Pacific College, and wants to continue to help people in need.

Mother to Son

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor –
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now –
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

– Langston Hughes

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