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New owners celebrate Habitat “sweat equity” homes

on September 13, 2010

Early on Saturday morning, the last walls were spackled up and the door screws tightened into place for the final homes of a “green” East Oakland neighborhood that had been in the making since 2002.

More than 100 volunteers, homeowners, families and community members gathered at the 10800 through 10900 blocks of Edes Avenue to celebrate the completion of the last eight houses in the 54-home Habitat for Humanity East Bay development.

Guests went on self-guided tours through the brand-new pastel-colored homes. Groups of children rode their bikes and played four-square in the streets during the celebration. Others ate popcorn and snow cones that were handed out by volunteers.

“I’m very excited to move in,” said Teebee Nerayo, the owner of one of the eight just- completed homes, standing before a crowd of guests.  The door to her new home was open for tours, and the floors inside were protected by paper and plastic. “If they gave me the key today, I would be here tomorrow,” Nerayo said.

Instead she was handed a giant ceremonial key to hold during the celebration. Over the past year, with Habitat for Humanity’s help, Nerayo and her family–she and her husband have four children–have helped build their own new Edes Avenue home.  The mortgage process should take two months, she said, and then the family will be moving in. Nerayo said she is looking forward to building a community with her neighbors.

Janice Jensen, the president of East Bay Habitat, said the finished project is the “largest and greenest Habitat development in the state of California.”

Habitat for Humanity is an international organization that works with volunteers to build affordable housing for families in need. The Habitat homes are offered to low-income, working families who must invest 500 hours of “sweat equity” — working hands-on — in the construction of their own homes.   They are not required to make a down payment, and receive zero-interest mortgages.

Once they move in, each family is responsible for both its monthly mortgage payments and the home’s upkeep. Mortgages are set to one-third of the family’s income. To qualify, applicants must meet certain income requirements. Generally, a working family of four needs to have a gross income between $36,120 and $64,000.

The Edes Avenue development site  once belonged to a nursery, which closed down in 1952. In the years that followed, the two-acre plot of land at 10900 Edes was converted into a truck dismantling and recycling yard. The land had been idle since the auto salvage yard closed in 1996. Next door, at 10800 Edes, a brick and construction material recycling yard had been mostly abandoned by 2001. The site had been gathering trash and providing a home for vagrants. The property was considered to be blighted and distressed.

“There were old, rusted out, corroded storage tanks and trucks and the ground was filled with toxic materials,” Jensen said. “So we knew that this wasn’t just going to be building homes. We knew we were going to have to do a lot of environmental cleanup.”

In 2002, with help from the city of Oakland and the Center for Creative Land Recycling, Habitat purchased the two parcels of land. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had classified them as brownfields, which is the EPA term for abandoned or underused commercial sites “where expansion or redevelopment is complicated by real or perceived environmental contamination.” Partnering with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and EPA, Habitat worked over the next four years to transform the toxic salvage yard into land suitable for building homes.

A total of 78,000 pounds of contaminated soil, along with non-hazardous brick and concrete debris were excavated, stockpiled, then taken off-site for disposal. Habitat broke ground for the project in May 2006.  The cost to complete the project was $17.7 million.

Each home has on-demand water heating and EnergyStar appliances, Jensen said.  “Every home here has been designed and built with green technology,” she said.  “We have a pretty flat lot here, so we can do some proper drainage. We have a cistern to catch water. We have low water tolerant plants.  Every home has a solar panel on it, through the PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric) Solar Habitat program, and so every one of these home owners has little to no electric bill.”

Nerayo said her family members were  so excited about moving in that they worked 600 hours on their home — an extra hundred beyond Habitat’s sweat equity requirement.  The Habitat families receive training along the way, while working under a designated “house captain” who oversees the project.  Although highly skilled labor like electrical installation and plumbing was left to professionals, there was plenty of nailing, sanding and painting for the family members to do as they made their physical investment in their future home.

Marvas McCladdie, a single father and Edes Avenue development homeowner, said it took two years, from his qualifying for ownerhip, before he was able to move in with his two daughters in 2008. McCladdie, a cook at Highland General Hospital, said the construction process was all new to him. On Saturday, he attended the celebration with Habitat volunteers and his new neighbors-to-be.

“It gives you a sense of empowerment,” McCladdie said. “You learn a whole bunch in the house building process, I mean, I cook for a living. So to build a house was completely out my box. But there’s people, step by step along the way, that teach you what needs to be done to get that house from the ground to the ceiling.”

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1 Comment

  1. Baseball Center Blog on September 15, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Oakland A S Clean Up…

    […] development site  once belonged to a nursery, which closed down in 1952. In th […]…

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