Building a house a year seemed about right for Tuolumne County's Habitat for Humanity chapter.
With the cost of buying vacant lots, installing infrastructure and
negotiating government red tape, adding one more low-cost home annually
to the county's inventory had proved a noble and reasonable goal for
But thanks to initiative, generosity and a once-in-a-life
opportunity, Habitat plans to build four new homes in each of the next
two years, then eight homes annually through the mid-2010s. That's more
per year than it has built in nearly a decade on the job.
From a valued but modest player in Tuolumne County's campaign for
affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity has almost overnight become a
Armed with a no-interest loan from Habitat's national organization,
the Sonora-based chapter bought a 40-lot subdivision off Columbia's
Parrotts Ferry Road at the bargain price of $399,000.
The lots are flat, most of the infrastructure is in, and the
townhouses to be constructed on the 4.5-acre site have already been
approved by the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors.
"It was almost too good to be true," said Betsy Harden, director of the local chapter.
While recession usually conspires against the less fortunate among
us, a bank foreclosure against the developers of the five-year-old
Parrotts Ferry Village project worked in Habitat's favor.
But without some bold moves, the bargain might have been lost.
When the Columbia property failed to sell at a foreclosure auction
last spring, said Harden, County Housing Coordinator Sheila Shanahan
"gave us a heads up." A community committee, including Habitat
directors, builders, developers, government officials and contractor
Dave Turner, sprung into action and deemed the plan feasible.
Then came the matter of money: Although the Columbia tract came at
a discount price, Habitat hardly keeps that kind of cash on hand.
Enter Roger Haughton, Twain Harte resident, retired mortgage and
insurance executive, philanthropist, former Habitat For Humanity
International board member and tireless backer of the local chapter.
Using his considerable clout, Haughton convinced the national
organization to come through with a no-interest "bridge loan" covering
the entire purchase price.
The local chapter was off and running.
"Our phone has been ringing since the news broke," said Harden,
adding that finding low-income, credit-worthy families for the Columbia
townhouses "will not be an issue."
"We had 65 applicants for our last home and 20 had sufficient credit," she added. "The need is there."
Once chosen, owners help Habitat volunteers build the homes, pay
sliding fees on interest-free loans and, to discourage profiteering,
accumulate no equity until they have owned their new home for five
The timing could not be better: There is still a dire need for
affordable housing in our community. But, thanks to the recession and
consequent building doldrums, the county's inclusionary ordinance and
other Housing Element programs have fallen short of meeting needs.
But Parrotts Ferry Village was first proposed as an affordable
housing development, so it seems fitting that Habitat has inherited it
during this time of need.
This great story isn't over yet: Habitat will soon launch a major
fund-raising effort aimed at paying back the $399,000 bridge loan,
giving everyone a chance to be part of a happy ending.