Home at Last: Habitat Opens More Doors

2 families rejoice in the results of their — and volunteers’ — labors

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

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On the Web

Evergreen Habitat for Humanity: www.ehfh.org

For the volunteers who spent 8,000 hours building two Habitat for Humanity houses at the Patten Park development in Orchards, Saturday’s dedication of the two houses was a beginning and an end.

The day celebrated the beginning of home-ownership and a better life for two families. It also marked the end of four years of Habitat for Humanity construction in the development, which includes seven homes. The development in the Five Corners area of Orchards is named for a family that owned the land, not for nearby Padden Parkway.

The two homes dedicated Saturday at Northeast 99th Court and Northeast 98th Avenue are the 22nd and 23rd in Clark County, and the final houses constructed in the neighborhood.

“When we came here five years ago, this was simply a field with blackberries and vacant lots,” said Josh Townsley, executive director of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity. “We have brought more young families into the neighborhood. Having homes here makes it safer rather than simply empty lots.”

Lucrecia Tudela, who will move into one of the houses with her husband, Cristino Cabrera, and their four children, said she is still pinching herself in disbelief that she’s the owner of a new, four-bedroom home.

“It’s very exciting and a huge blessing for me and our family,” Tudela said. “We are living in an 800-square-foot two-bedroom apartment. I’m trying to get used to all this space.”

Tudela is an at-home mom for Ritaciah, 12; Champ, 10; Ky, 7; and Tyce, 2. Her husband, Cabrera, is a security guard at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

Tudela said the family never could have bought a home without Habitat for Humanity.

“There are no words to express what these volunteers do so that others have the opportunity to have a home,” said Betty Ann Cabrera, Cristino Cabrera’s sister. Betty Ann Cabrera traveled from the Mariana Islands to be present at the dedication. “I had only watched these things on TV,” she said. “To think it happened to our family. I am just in awe.”

Lindsay Griffin, a single mom of three, will buy the other house. She had to go through the Habitat application process twice before being approved for a home. The process involves community meetings, interviews, home visits to verify the applicant lives in overcrowded or unsafe conditions, and job and income checks to ensure the applicant is employed but earns $20,000 to $34,000 for a family of four.

Griffin and her children, Dakota, 7, Pacino, 5, and Dajah, 4, live in a two-bedroom apartment.

“All three kids share a bedroom,” she said. “Now, they’ll have separate bedrooms. I’m looking forward to all our memories we’re going to have here.”

Wells Fargo and Bank of America each loaned $75,000 to finance the new homes. Hundreds of volunteers took care of the labor, which began in April.

Homes are sold at no profit with an affordable 30-year mortgage and a 0 percent interest rate. Each family puts in at least 300 hours of volunteer time toward their home’s construction.

The past and future were represented at the dedication.

Neighbor Christabel Behr reminisced about when she received her home, the first Habitat for Humanity house in the Patten Park development. Behr said she has enjoyed her home and meeting the new neighbors. Many of them come from common experiences. They know what it’s like to scrape by on low incomes and live in overcrowded or unsafe conditions. Behr previously lived in a mobile home riddled with holes.

“I don’t have to worry about water leaking in and electrical problems anymore,” she said. “There’s more space, too. I like working in the yard. I spend a lot of time there actually, growing food and freezing it.”

She said the neighbors have been welcoming and helpful for the most part. After she moved in -- in December 2008 -- there was a snow storm.

“The non-Habitat (for Humanity) neighbors helped us shovel snow out of the driveway for us,” Behr said. “They’re really nice.”

She said her tax credit for the house also helped her to buy a new car. Her 14-year-old car was on its last leg, she said.

Meanwhile, Portland resident Kathy Murphy got a little glimpse of her future. She and her four children have been selected to receive a house in Vancouver, possibly in 2012.

“The homes are so much nicer than I imagined,” Murphy said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

She started to choke up on tears.

“When you see these people with money out here digging trenches, it’s quite incredible,” Murphy said. “I never imagined I would have the opportunity to buy a home. To survive is kind of where I’ve been.”

Evergreen Habitat for Humanity will construct five new homes in Vancouver city limits in 2012, Townsley said.

PARIS ACHEN: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.