Sweat Equity: Habitat of Central Lane’s largest home development gaining momentum

SPRINGFIELD – Sandwiched between R and Q streets, development is underway for Habitat for Humanity of Central Lane’s largest home development in its 30-year history,  Fischer Village.

“We are going for high density so we can build more homes on a single piece of property,” said John Aaron, construction project manager.

On the single-acre property, Fischer Village will include 12 separate two-story homes, 10 of which will be two bedrooms, one bath and 900 square feet. The two “bookend” homes at each end of the development will be ADA-accessible with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and 1,200 square feet. 

The first set of these “tandem homes” — unattached dwelling units occupying the same lot — are being primed to be move-in ready in May, with more tandems weaving their way through the permitting process.  

On the job at Habitat Central Lane since 2020, Aaron has been a contractor for 25 years up and down the West Coast. Most recently, he was in Florence for 14 years, where he worked on projects like building the campus for the Boys and Girls Club.

His attraction to Habitat of Central Lane’s mission and the culture of nonprofits led him to Lane County, where he watched intently as the trusses were delivered at Fischer Village’s first set of homes on Nov. 23. 

Habitat of Central Lane acquired the property in 2012, after having been gifted three of the four lots, and purchasing the final piece in 2017.

“Ephrem Compte … passed away in late 2020, and was a generous supporter of Habitat. We recently received an estate gift that is supporting home construction in Fischer Village, which was named after Ephrem’s late partner, Lee Fischer,” said Jody Campbell, program services and office manager, noting that Fischer was a production designer and art director for film and television, most notably for “The Practice,” “Ally McBeal,” and “Brooklyn Bridge.”   

“Habitat’s mission was important to Ephrem and to Lee,” Campbell said. “Ephrem passionately believed everyone deserves a home of their own, and wanted to help in any way he could. In fact, he celebrated his 90th birthday on the build site of a house he generously sponsored.”

In 2019, Habitat broke ground on the property. After an onslaught of legal delays and the pandemic forcing construction to crawl, the project is starting to regain momentum. “During the pandemic, we were only able to build one home — a big, custom single-family home in North Eugene off Delta Highway,” he said. “Now, we’re trying to ramp up again with all these projects to do four or five a year.”

The proper permits for Fischer Village came through in July. “We’re only about 120 days into it, so we’re moving right along. We expect to have all of these completed by the Fall of 2025,” he said.

The scale of this property is due in part to the City of Springfield’s zoning law changes in 2019, which effectively opened the door for higher density development. 

“Originally, there were only going to be six to eight homes here,” Aaron said. “The changes with the zoning laws allows us to put more people in a smaller area.”

Habitat of Central Lane typically constructs smaller developments called “cluster cottages” of up to four homes that are 800 square feet or less, in addition to single-family homes on a single property. 

“Being able to do a property with 12 homes — taken from four properties and subdividing them — makes Fischer Village the biggest property we’ve developed,” he said.

Springfield ranks at the top of the list for the need for affordable housing in Lane County, and so does Cottage Grove, Aaron said, nodding to another project on Sixth Street. 

“We are in the design phase with the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture for housing on Sixth Street in Cottage Grove,” he said. “We’re still developing concepts and meeting with the City of Cottage Grove to see what we can do, and it looks like we will probably be building a cottage cluster development to accommodate another six to eight families.”

Incentives to build help.

“The cities of Springfield and Cottage Grove are giving huge incentives to builders and developers and are waving developmental fees,” he said, noting that Habitat of Central Lane has saved thousands of dollars in developmental fees through the City of Springfield, “just because they are encouraging builders to come in and not just build homes, but to make them affordable.”

Habitat of Central Lane builds affordable homes for those who fall into the 40-80% of the Area Median Income. Median household income $54,942 in Lane County, according to the most recent census from 2020. Habitat Homeowners receive a very low interest mortgage that is no more than 30% of their gross income.

Future homeowners do have to put in 200 volunteer hours — 100 of which are spent in “sweat equity” with a hammer and hard hat onsite their future home. The remaining 100 hours can be fulfilled in a variety of ways, like by going through new mortgage and financial classes, conditioning the new homeowners for future financial success. 

“We’re not just trying to do starter homes for people, we’re trying to do their  forever homes,” he said. 

Development is funded through private donations, community donations and grants. “A lot of people think that we’re like government funded or a government agency and no, it’s just the hustle and bustle of the community and our people,” he said. “About 80% of our workforce are all either local community volunteers and corporate groups.”

Jane Falls, past president of the Springfield Rotary, calls projects like this, “real, viable and important to our community.” The club donated $20,000 to the project, in addition to its own sweat equity. “Our members have been out there several times and helped build the retaining walls,” she said. 

There is no money to be made for Habitat.

“Every house is a loss for us,” Aaron said. “Our biggest concern is keeping the homes affordable, not just now, but in the future. We’re trying to organize properties like this and the one in Cottage Grove to where they’re put into a land trust so it can’t be gentrified later — a big, ongoing problem with new affordable housing.”

He said that home values are rising so much that, “by the time we finish a home and it’s appraised, it’s sometimes already out of the affordable housing market.”

With winter creeping in, the group hopes to have the first set of houses “dried in” with roofs, doors and windows by the end of the week. “Unless it’s a sloppy mess to where we deem it dangerous, we’ll be out here every day rain or shine,” he said. 

Homeowner applications for the next set of affordable housing at Fischer Village will be announced in January of 2023. 

Habitat of Central Lane has built 73 homes to date in Lane County. Fischer Village will take that number up to 85.



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