Sep 09

Habitat For Humanity Pays Off

By caseyholdahl

Rick and Nona King seemed to do everything right. They met at church and courted for around two years before getting married. A few years later, they had their first child, a son. Another couple of years, another son. With a household of four, it made sense to squirrel away any savings they could muster in an attempt to buy their own home.

"We tried to buy a house once and within our price range," said Nona, "but everything was like the lowest level. There were houses with floors leaning, a lot of different … interesting things. So ok, let's not do it yet. Let's wait."

So they waited and saved. And they moved, a lot. Eleven times in ten years, to be exact. They always stayed in Portland, but moved from neighborhood to neighborhood in search of a suitable rental in which to raise a family. And Nona home schooled the boys, so not only did they have to find a home large enough for a family of four, but it also had to be affordable on one income.

Nevertheless, they made it work. The housing they could afford had problems like mice infestations and cracked foundation. They continued to set aside whatever money they could while moving, on average, once every year until they finally saved enough to have a home, their own home, built.

"Finally we found a builder and we got our land and put some earnest money down," said Nona. "Didn't think to put (earnest money) in escrow…"

You can probably figure out what happened next.

"(The builder) took a personal bankruptcy and shut his business down," said Rick. "Took all of our money and other people's money with him. So we couldn't do anything about it. Never got anything from the court."

And with that, it once again seemed like Rick and Nona and their two boys, Chris and Nick, were destined to continue the vicious cycle of renting substandard housing. The boys were now 17 and 14, so it would only be a few years before they left the nest, leaving Rick and Nona to themselves again. Finding affordable yet livable housing, even if it was a rental, would be easier with two instead of four.

But the King household wasn't done growing.

Nona was expecting twins. Instead of being a few years away from emptying the nest, Rick and Nona were now preparing to raise two more boys with no real place to call their own.

Then they heard about Habitat for Humanity. Rick's sister knew a family in the Corvallis area who received a Habitat for Humanity home, so they looked into the program. Shortly after Nona gave birth to identical twin boys, Michael and Richard, the King's applied to be one of the thousands of families Habitat for Humanity helps by providing affordable home ownership to families in need. After approval and completion of their "sweat equity" hours, the King's, after 20 years together, finally had a home of their own in a Habitat for Humanity four-plex in northeast Portland known as Covenant Gardens.

"The older boys were the ones who had to move around from neighborhood to neighborhood," said Nona. "We lived in several different places. But having the same house growing up is so much better. (The twins) have been here, they know the neighborhood, they known the people, they're comfortable, they enjoy it, they're not uprooted, not moved around. And of course, they have a sense of pride in their home as well."

That was in 1998. A little over 11 years later, the King's paid off their Habitat for Humanity mortgage. And during those 11 years, the neighborhood improved from rough and tumble to safe and sound for families just like the King's.

"Habitat being here has been a part of the changes in this community," said Nona. "Habitat helps people who can not afford a home own a home. When you own your own home you have a sense of belonging and pride and you want to take care of it and be a part of the community and make the community function well. Just one person starts that and it can snowball."

Which is one of the reasons the Trail Blazers and Wells Fargo have partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build homes similar to the one the King's have enjoyed and still live in today. Both organizations realize the positive changes that can occur when people have safe and stable housing and how a community can improve family-by-family.

"By partnering with the Trail Blazers and Wells Fargo, we are showing the people of Portland and Gresham the positive influence local businesses can make in our community," said Habitat Executive Director Steve Messinetti . "Victoria Cottages will provide a brighter future for more than 40 moms, dads and kids, who for the first time in their lives will get to experience the benefits of a stable, healthy home."

The King's, along with many other families in Portland helped by Habitat for Humanity, know about those benefits firsthand. Their oldest boys have moved out and started families of their own, while the twins, who have never had to move, attend da Vinci Arts Middle School in northeast Portland. The roots which the King's put down over a decade ago remain strong, and Habitat for Humanity is a big reason why.

"It's wonderful to not have to move and be in the same place for these 13 years," said Nona, "to raise our children here. And there's a stability in that, and that's probably the most important thing for us, the stability it gives the kids."


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