Habitat for Humanity turns to foreclosures

May 27, 2009 12:15:47 PM PDT
The Habitat for Humanity program that normally builds houses for underserved families is trying something new in Menlo Park because of the foreclosure crisis. They kicked off a brand new idea Wednesday to buy foreclosed homes in the Bay Area and fix them up for affordable housing.

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The program is a $1 million investment and a unique neighborhood revitalization idea that focuses on filling foreclosed homes. San Mateo County has a relatively low foreclosure rate but there are some cities with an exceptionally high rate like East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Program organizers hope to change that one house at a time.

"Basically tear all the flooring out, put new windows in everywhere," one volunteer explained, talking about a foreclosed home in Menlo Park.

After several months of hard volunteer labor their vision is to turn this 900-square foot home from beast to beauty and make it a good house for a needy family. The foreclosure acquisition was purchased by the Greater San Francisco Chapter of Habitat for Humanity.

"It actually was, had a loan for $675,000 in February 2006. We just purchased it for $225,000, for one-third of the cost. We'll put in about $40,000 worth of work into it," explained Phillip Kilbridge, Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity in Greater San Francisco.

It is the first of five foreclosed homes in Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood that Habitat for Humanity wants to transform from a neglected property into a beacon of hope.

"It's a great neighborhood for a working family. But, in this neighborhood there is six times the foreclosure rate of the rest of San Mateo County. So, it's really being hit very hard by the foreclosure crisis," said Kilbridge.

Kilbridge says the families who qualify to apply for these transformed homes earn 40 to 60 percent of the area's median income.

"Our families are required to put in 500 hours of sweat equity and that acts as sort of their down payment," said Construction Director Ed Lehmer.

Habitat for Humanity is launching this first-ever foreclosure acquisition program in partnership with the City of Menlo Park.

"Menlo Park is going to help to the tune of $100,000 on each of five houses," said Menlo Park councilmember Andy Cohen.

Cohen hopes this project will help rebuild neighborhoods in crisis, like Belle Haven, where there are about 60 foreclosed homes within several blocks radius.

Habitat for Humanity will carry the mortgages but the families that move in will get zero-interest loans. Also, to qualify for the homes they will be required to have good credit, make the mortgage payments and make the 500-hour sweat equity payment before moving in.

67 families have already applied for the program.

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