By Larry Coonrod
NEWPORT—For the first time in its 23-year existence, Habitat for Humanity of Lincoln County will build homes in Newport beginning next year.
On Monday, the Newport City Council voted in favor of donating land to the nonprofit organization.
“This is a game changer for us,” said Executive Director Sally Bovett.
“It has been our dream for years to be able to afford to build some housing in Newport because the need is so great.”
The donated lots are located behind City Hall, adjacent to SW Hatfield Drive, and SW 10th and SW Pine streets.
Bovett said Habitat for Humanity plans to build two duplexes and one single family home on the properties. Construction on the first duplex will likely start in the spring of 2016.
The Habitat for Humanity model allows working families to afford a home through a zero interest 30-year loan and 500 hours of “sweat equity.”
Those chosen by the local Habitat board to purchase a home begin gaining equity after five years.
“Just because you don’t make a lot of money doesn’t mean you aren’t hard working,” Bovett said, pointing out that the default rate on Habitat loans is less than a third of what banks experience.
“The number one vehicle for gaining personal wealth and getting out of poverty is becoming a homeowner,” she said.
Since it formed in 1992, Habitat for Humanity of Lincoln County has built or rehabbed homes all over the county with the exception of Newport.
Monday Bovett found herself on the hot seat in an at times contentious back and forth with several councilors. Councilor David Allen questioned early statements by Bovett that Lincoln City had donated lots in 2002. According to Lincoln City, it sold the lots to Habitat for $20,000.
Bovett explained that the lots were worth $40,000, so in effect half the value was donated, and the city waived the $17,000 system development charge.
Affordable Housing a City Goal
Newport’s rental vacancy rate is about 1 percent, which coupled with high rent and home prices forces many workers to live elsewhere and commute.
Spurring growth of affordable housing has been a city goal for several years.
Bovett pointed out that once the new owners occupy the properties, they go back on the tax rolls. Additionally, Newport will receive about $10,000 per dwelling in system development charges.
In accepting the properties, Habitat agreed to state and local laws requiring that the properties remain affordable housing for 20 years. In practical terms, that means that they can only be resold to someone earning 40 to 80 percent of the average median income.
Two Habitat homeowners shared their stories ahead of the council vote.
Kathy Monihan spoke of being a single mother of two daughters living in a HUD Section 8 apartment notorious for drug deals before she took a “leap of faith” and filled out a Habitat for Humanity application.
Owning a home gives her now grown children a safe place to come home to, she said.
“It means I’m not ashamed of where I live,” she said. “Not only was the house built, but so was my self-esteem.”
Cheryl Reeves testified about living in a home with a broken sewer and shower with her husband and son before helping build and then purchasing Habitat’s newest home in April.
“I can’t tell you how joyful for us as a family it is to have a home and a garden and a dog,” she said.
“If you can give that to someone else just one more time it benefits the entire community.”
The vote to transfer the properties passed 4-3 with councilors Wendy Engler, Ralph Busby and David Allen opposed.
Busby does not believe the city should subsidize housing. Engler and Allen said they support Habitat for Humanity’s work but questioned giving up city property in Newport’s core expansion area.
Bovett said the visibility of the Newport home builds will help the organization attract volunteers and donations.
“Our hope is that will help us build in other places as well,” she said.
Contact Reporter Larry Coonrod by emailing [email protected]