HOPE breaks new ground

ODELL -- Housing for People, Inc. (HOPE) broke ground on a self-help housing project Jan. 17. On hand were several representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service, who presented HOPE with a $10,000 grant to help fund the project.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) was also at the site, a nine-acre lot at the end of a cul-de-sac just north of Odell, to voice his support for the project.

"It's a delight to be here today and to watch HOPE continue to blossom," Walden said, adding that he remembered "the genesis" of the organization 12 years ago. HOPE was started to address the growing homeless population and lack of affordable housing after Hood River's last homeless shelter was forced to close for security reasons. Today, nearly 600 people reside in HOPE's affordable housing -- about 10 percent of the population of Hood River.

"(That) just tells you the need is so severe," Walden said.

The self-help housing project is the first of its kind in Hood River County -- and is one of only a few similar projects around the state. During the first phase of the project, eight families will work together -- along with a construction supervisor who will oversee the project -- to build eight homes. Each family must contribute 30 hours a week to the project.

"The families help each other out," said Ron Cohen, vice president of HOPE's board of directors. "It's sort of like an old-fashioned barn raising."

Like its other affordable housing units in Hood River, HOPE requires residents to qualify for the self-help program financially, then they must meet strict credit guidelines. Finally, they must be willing to commit to 30 hours of work on the houses each week. No one moves into their new home until all of the houses are finished.

According to Denise Endow, program manager for the self-help project, the families involved pay none of the costs of construction, but begin paying the mortgage as soon as they move in.

"That's what makes it possible for them," she said. The program also creates a community within the families involved. And, says Endow, the families gain not only homeownership -- something none of them has had before -- but also useful skills.

"It's definitely got that job training angle," she said.

Most of the eight families who will begin building their homes in the next few months are permanent-resident Hispanic families who have lived in the Hood River Valley for years.

Norberto Salamanca has lived here for 21 years, his wife, Teresa for 15. They came to the ground-breaking with their son, Israel. Through a translator, Endow told them where the homes would be placed, talked about the soil and joked with them about being able to pick their neighbors.

"You'll have a piece of Hood River," Endow said, stomping the ground. Salamanca laughed and looked out over the grass-covered lot sloping gently toward a farm in the distance.

Endow said the eight homes in the first phase of the project will likely be finished next spring. By then HOPE will be ready to launch the next phase, another eight homes. It is still taking applicants for the project. Call HOPE at 386-9144.

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