Think Out Loud

Portland’s Habitat for Humanity ramps up efforts to ease the affordable housing crisis

By Elizabeth Castillo (OPB)
Jan. 8, 2023 2 p.m.
Habitat for Humanity Portland Region volunteers help frame homes in Portland's Cully neighborhood.

Habitat for Humanity Portland Region volunteers help frame homes in Portland's Cully neighborhood.

Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Portland Region

The Portland chapter of Habitat for Humanity is helping address the housing crisis by building more affordable housing, repairing existing homes and helping Black families achieve home ownership in the metro area.

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The organization received an $8 million donation from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott last year. The funds are helping the nonprofit boost the number of new homes it’s building in places like Beaverton, Gresham, and throughout Portland.

“We have over 100 homes under construction right now,” said Steve Messinetti, the president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Portland Region.

In recent years, the organization would build about 25 to 30 homes annually.

Still, the demand far exceeds what’s available.

For example, Messinetti said the organization recently received 1,200 applications from families for a pool of just 40 homes. The final list of homeowners is ultimately whittled down through a lottery process for eligible applicants.

Habitat for Humanity Portland Region is building new, affordable homes for families with low incomes in Portland’s Mill Park neighborhood.

Habitat for Humanity Portland Region is building new, affordable homes for families with low incomes in Portland’s Mill Park neighborhood.

Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Portland Region

The organization has historically played the role of home builder and general contractor but in recent years, its mission has evolved.

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This year, Habitat plans to fix about 50 to 60 homes through its critical home repair program, which launched a decade ago and helps low-income homeowners with necessary repairs they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford.

“We’re able to come in and do a significant repair that gives that family the ability to stay, often seniors,” he said. “And it gives that house a new life.”

According to Messinetti, government programs, nonprofits and developers tend to focus on helping low-income people find rental housing instead of achieving home ownership.

But that may soon change.

In Portland, Habitat for Humanity has boosted its affordable housing efforts.

In Portland, Habitat for Humanity has boosted its affordable housing efforts.

Courtesy of Habitat for Humanity Portland Region

Last year, MacKenzie Scott made a $436 million donation to Habitat Humanity International and 84 affiliate organizations around the nation to help low-income residents, including Black families, obtain the dream of owning a home.

Messinetti said the program would remove barriers that Black households have historically faced to owning a home.

He thinks home ownership has an outsized impact on low-income families that’s greater than simply finding an affordable place to rent.

“They’re able to do better at work and be better parents because they’re not constantly chasing the next place they have to live,” Messinetti said. “The benefits are way beyond what we think of in terms of a wealth-building opportunity. It’s stability.”

Messinetti spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller about affordable housing in the region. Click play to listen to the entire conversation:

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