Habitat for Humanity hunts for land


Last updated 4/2/2024 at 11:48am

Photo by Bill Bartlett

Acquiring land for home-building projects is a bigger challenge for Habitat for Humanity than actually building homes.

As it seeks to add workforce housing to its primary mission of affordable housing, Sisters Habitat for Humanity is eagerly awaiting a decision from the State of Oregon for its grant application.

Beginning in 2017 Oregon launched its statewide housing plan in response to the critical shortage of affordable homes, especially for lower income earners. The same plan included efforts to ease homelessness. (OHCS) Oregon Housing and Community Services was formed and, over the years since, the state legislature has produced myriad funding bills, some assisted by federal dollars.

OHCS estimates that Oregon is 8,000 homes short of meeting needs. No community is exempt from the issue. In Sisters, Habitat for Humanity has been the leader in tackling the problem. To date they have delivered 78 affordable homes to the community with more in construction.

Those homes were in the category of affordable, meaning those homes went to families whose median income was less than 80 percent of the surrounding area. The median household income ($93,802) for zip code 97759 is more than Deschutes County ($82,042), Jefferson County ($69,345), Linn County ($69,523), and Sisters city ($84,088). For all of Oregon it is $65,667.

OHCS is a sprawling agency with several components. One, the General Housing Account Program (GHAP), expands the state's supply of housing for low- and very-low-income Oregonians. GHAP resources support two primary activities: developing affordable multifamily housing and increasing the capacity of OHCS partners to meet the state's affordable-housing needs. All projected uses are subject to revenue availability. 25% of GHAP funds are set aside to support Veterans.

It is from GHAP that Habitat hopes to get a slice of the pie.

"It is competitive," said Peter Hoover, executive director for Habitat. "We're optimistic but there are no guarantees. We just have to wait along with all the other applicants for the decision, which we think will be around June."

Habitat has a clear idea of what housing it would like to build with the funds, but until the money is in hand they cannot make a formal application to the City for approvals and permits. Like all construction in Sisters it must be submitted to the Community Development Department for review.

Habitat has acquired three parcels of land on which the homes would be built. One, under contract, sits on the north side of Adams Avenue just west of Larch Street. A second, owned outright, also on Adams, is at the intersection of Cedar Street, and the third, four times as large as the other two is on Larch Street one block north of Adams.

"Land, as we all know, is scarce," said Hoover. "Finding suitable land is much harder than building the homes."

These three parcels will be able to accommodate 19 affordable homes and up to seven homes for workforce housing, homes where the median family income can be up to 120 percent of

the area's.

As with many towns like Sisters, characterized by retirees and empty nesters, homes are often unaffordable for the essential workers needed for a sustainable community – first responders, teachers, and service employees, for example.

Habitat was hoping to build yet another 20-some homes and made an unsolicited $1.25 million (full appraised price) offer for land directly across the street from its Larch Street holding. That land is owned by Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church and sits behind its building and parking lot on North Fir Street.

The land has been vacant for 39 years and the church has no known plans for its future use. In a more than 2-to-1 vote, church members voted to reject Habitat's offer.

Upon learning of the church's decision from community members (not Habitat), The Nugget sought comment from Pastor Ron Gregg. Gregg asked that The Nugget not report on the matter.

Hoover expressed hope that at some point in the future the church may reconsider an offer.

Meanwhile, Habitat, in partnership with Sisters Woodlands and other funding, is moving forward with two more workforce units. Sisters Woodlands is a 300-plus mixed-use project bound by Pine Street, Hwy. 20, and Barclay Drive.


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