Benton Habitat's work site at Woodlands
The first home in the Woodlands project, seen at right, could be finished within the next month and Benton Habitat officials hope to finish the second home before the holidays. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The wait is almost over for a family to move into a new home in Benton Habitat for Humanity’s Woodlands subdivision. The local organization announced in the fall of 2018 that the Francisco Garibay and Gabriela Rodriguez-Garibay family had been chosen to be the first to get a home in the development located near North Ninth Street and Quail Glenn Drive in Philomath.

At the time, the hope was that the family could be moving in about 12 months later in the fall of 2019. Benton Habitat hosted a groundbreaking celebration in July 2019 with an updated timeline that suggested completion by March 2020.

“We are 85% done in No. 1 here, the Rodriguez home,” said Doug Davis, construction manager, who added that work remaining included the front steps, a garage door, exterior painting and other miscellaneous items before moving on to final touch-ups and anything that goes on a punch list. “We’re probably 2-1/2, 3 weeks out to have the city come look at it and give us our certificate of occupancy.”

If all goes to plan, the family could be moving in within the next month.

“It’s been a long process and we’re excited to get the families in here and finally get them home,” Benton Habitat development manager Daniel Sidder said. “With the delays with COVID and just some other construction delays, it’s been a long time coming.”

A second home located on the Woodlands property is moving along as well and could be finished within the next couple of months.

“This one’s been pretty consistently about six weeks behind this one,” Davis said, comparing the second home to the first. “We’re really focused on trying to get this done before the end of the year … It would be nice to have these families in by the holidays.”

Benton Habitat, which partners with communities and low-income families to construct affordable homes, was not immune to the COVID chaos that disrupted construction timelines everywhere. The organization had to overcome multiple setbacks to reach this stretch leading up to the first home’s completion.

“COVID probably put us back about a year in terms of not having consistent volunteer groups and volunteer folks out here,” Sidder said.

“Nothing happened on this site for at least seven months from March on,” Davis said. “All of the good weather, we stood neutral, and then we were setting (roofing) trusses in pouring rain. I had to call off several days of work because the subfloor was a skating rink.”

In addition, Davis said his core group of volunteers were getting burned out. Making matters even more challenging was the work site, which became challenging during the wet months with a lot of mud.

“Quite a bit of delays but really in the last couple of months, we’ve been cruising along in getting these pretty close to being done,” Sidder said.

The Benton Habitat program requires families to invest 500 hours of sweat equity, which Sidder said both families have either completed or are close to being completed. In addition, the projects revolve around community involvement. The Oregon State University football and women’s soccer teams have been to the site to volunteer, for example.

Construction projects everywhere have been going over budget over the past several months because of the sudden rise in lumber prices. However, Benton Habitat largely avoided that scenario.

“Doug saw a little bit of the writing on the wall and we did do quite a bit of preordering for our lumber packages. So we got our full packages really before the spike,” Sidder said. “We were looking back at comparables for the last two homes and we’re really not much higher for costs in terms of lumber prices. The big thing for us has been the subcontractors — their availability and pricing, I think, has gone up a little bit there.”

Davis said that at last check, the first home was still on budget.

“It’s also been a big learning process for us,” Sidder said. “This is the most work on a development that we’ve ever done, so I think there was a little initial learning curve and understanding what it takes to build on an acre lot as opposed to doing one house and infill in a neighborhood where all of the infrastructure is there.”

Davis said he believes the most impressive feature of the new homes is the efficiency, designed to produce as much renewable energy as they consume, which if accomplished, leaves the homeowner with a net zero energy bill.

“This house has upgrades in the insulation, windows, the heating and it’s solar ready. … The goal is net zero,” Davis said, who provided specific examples that fit Energy Trust of Oregon standards. “All of the appliances will be Energy Star … We’ve done just about everything that can be done to make this as sustainable and efficient as possible.”

Benton Habitat for Humanity purchased the property in June 2017 for $365,000.

The Benton Habitat homes are available to chosen families well below the average market price. Families purchase the homes through a land trust model, a strategy that helps keep the house affordable. Through this model, Benton Habitat holds ownership of the land and sells improvements on it. As a result, the cost of the land is not included in the home’s purchase price.

The homeowner leases the land with long-term rights where the house sits while maintaining many of the same advantages that other homeowners enjoy. In the future when the home is sold, a resale formula keeps the house affordable for the next family.

Benton Habitat follows the same standards as a bank with lending practices and adds in specific criteria that families need to meet, such as residency in Benton County and earning less than 80% of the area’s median income.

The original goal was to keep the new houses at Woodlands under $200,000 for the qualified families. Sidder said it’s now probably closer to $220,000.

Finding affordable property to build homes on continues to be more and more of an issue. Sidder said the organization has been exploring different ways to raise money with its traditional fundraising model becoming more expensive.

“With the rising costs of land and materials, we’re having to budget quite a bit more for the homes, so we’re trying to figure out some other ways that we can have more money up front and have access to that,” he said.

For the Woodlands project, Benton Habitat received a $325,000 grant from Oregon Housing and Community Services through the Local Innovation and Fast Track housing program, or LIFT 2.0, to assist with infrastructure costs.

Once the two current homes under construction are finished, Benton Habitat will be looking to get started on the first of the three remaining Woodlands home sites.

“We’re going to be taking a little bit of a break through the winter to get some of our fundraising (organized), try to get a little bit more of the capital up front to start the third home,” Sidder said. “We do have a couple of other projects.”

Upcoming Benton Habitat projects include work on an existing home that’s coming back to the organization and will be rehabilitated for the next family and a siding project at the Corvallis ReStore.

In the future, after the five new homes at Woodlands are completed, a sixth home that previously existed on the property will be remodeled and prepared for a partner family.

Did you enjoy this content? The news site has no paywall but we do rely on voluntary memberships. If you’re already a member, thank you. To join our community as a member or to make a one-time contribution, please CLICK HERE.