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Holding his young daughter in the warm Saturday morning sun, Francisco Garibay’s gaze seemed to be directed toward the spot where his family’s home will be constructed in the coming months.

Garibay, his wife and their six children currently live in a three-bedroom apartment and as one might imagine, it’s cramped to the last inch. No one would blame Garibay if he paused for a moment to imagine what life would be like a year from now.

“I can’t wait to have a home where my kids can have a place where they can play and be free,” Garibay said. “That’s what I’m waiting for.”

With Benton Habitat for Humanity’s six-lot affordable housing development in Philomath breaking ground, the wait for Garibay’s family and others in line for a home has grown shorter.

Bill Gellatly, who descends from the same family that settled the Philomath region more than 140 years ago, said the next home constructed will be the 40th since Benton Habitat for Humanity was established in 1991.

“When we’re all done, we’ll have six homes,” Gellatly, who sits on Benton Habitat’s board of directors, said in reference to the organization’s Woodlands development. “I don’t like to think about this as a product. … In this case, the product is creating families that have a better future.”

Benton Habitat officials, including board president Van Melick, executive director Karen Rockwell, development manager Daniel Sidder, construction manager Doug Davis and several others were on hand for Saturday’s groundbreaking along with community leaders and two of the three families selected to live in the Woodlands, which is located on North Ninth Street.

Preliminary work on the first home, which will be constructed on a 7,619-square-foot corner lot, started with the utility phase. Sidder said the hope is to begin actual construction within the next month.

“The idea is that about four months later, we’ll start on the next one,” Sidder said. “(We expect to take) about eight months per home and we’ll sequence it out that way.”

Four other homes will be constructed on lots with similar square footage between 7,000 and 8,000. An existing three-bedroom, two-bath home built in 1940 was on the property that Benton Habitat purchased in June 2017 for $365,000. Plans call for that home, which sits on a 10,423-square-foot lot, to be remodeled.

Being in the program includes 500 hours of sweat equity that allows families to invest in their home while getting involved on the ground floor. They also go through homebuyer and financial management courses.

Benton Habitat would like to increase the number of houses that go up annually to a rate that exceeds the current 1.4 per year, or 39 homes in 28 years.

“The real big plan is we’ll continue to build on some properties that are good opportunities, but we would like to really build our capacity so that we can do a great job when we do have an opportunity to do a subdivision or maybe running four, five, six houses at a time,” he said. “We don’t want to be a property developer. We’d like to find affordable dirt but it doesn’t work out that way most of the time.”

It’s no secret that affordable housing can be tough to find in Benton County. In reality, it extends well beyond this region and Oregon.

“It’s one that we continue to fight,” Gellatly said about the affordable housing crisis. “Every affiliate in the whole national part of Habitat for Humanity faces this.”

The Benton Habitat homes are available to chosen families well below the average price.

“We’re going to be striving for hitting the whole range of where we are in respect to median family income,” Gellatly said. “In some cases, it may be more appropriate for us to build more upscale and in other places will be more toward the bottom end of that.”

Families purchase the homes with what is known as a land trust model, a strategy that helps keep the house affordable. Through this model, Benton Habitat holds ownership of the land and sells improvements on it. As a result, the cost of the land is not included in the home’s purchase price.

“This is the first time we’re exploring that opportunity,” Gellatly said. “The biggest thing it brings is an assurance in a development that we do or a house that we build to be able to stay in affordable housing.”

The homeowner leases the land with long-term rights where the house sits while maintaining many of the same advantages that other homeowners enjoy. In the future when the home is sold, a resale formula keeps the house affordable for the next family.

“The old model was that Habitat affiliates had the first right of refusal to buy any house that was going to be sold with the hope that we could always transfer the home,” Gellatly added. “But there was no guarantee. The land trust model will certainly help us do that.”

Benton Habitat follows the same standards as a bank with lending practices and adds in specific criteria that families need to meet, such as residency in Benton County and earning less than 80 percent of the area’s median income.

Davis said the homes will be built with a “net zero” approach. Such homes are built well insulated and are energy efficient to the extent that they produce as much renewable energy as they consume. As a result, the homeowner is left with a net zero energy bill and a carbon-free home.

Benton Habitat received a $325,000 grant from Oregon Housing and Community Services through the Local Innovation and Fast Track housing program, or LIFT 2.0, to assist with infrastructure costs.

Benton Habitat’s Gellatly would like to see a quicker pace with the number of homes going up.

“There’s no upper number for us building that would begin to serve the need,” he said. “The real key is to grow smartly, be the very best stewards of the money that we can be. For those that know the Form 990 that nonprofits have to use, my goal is also to keep looking at how much of our money is directed to program.”

In addition to the new home program, Benton Habitat also offers its home repair initiative with zero-interest loans and operates a ReStore to accept donations and sell home improvement items at discounted prices.

“Those things are actually great opportunities in themselves, but building homes is the primary mission,” Gellatly said. “So, we’ll continually look at the balance of that and see how we can serve the most people.”

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