By Paul Weideman

On two days in late June, more than a dozen young cyclists converged at a couple of homesites in Oshara Village to contribute some free labor. It was a stop on the southern route (one of three) for the annual Bike & Build ride for affordable housing.

The pedaling ambassadors from the Philadephia-based nonprofit began at Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and will end up on the California coast. Along the way, they help out at a number of affordable-housing projects. In New Orleans, they asssisted with the continuing post-Katrina rebuild. In our capital city, they worked with Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity.

At one of the lots in Oshara, they put up a coyote fence. When Habitat for Humanity builds a house there, it will push beyond 120 the number of homes it has put up in Santa Fe since its 1987 founding.

The organization builds houses for, and with, people whose incomes fall between 30 and 80 pecent of the area median income. The owners contribute “sweat equity,” working 350 hours (for a single-parent household) or 500 hours (for a two-parent household) on their new home.

Marilyn Perryman, Santa Fe Habitat’s development and marketing director, said up to 200 people inquire about houses every year and fewer than 10 qualify after passing a financial fitness course. In three decades, the organization has seen only a couple of foreclosures.

Those who do qualify, and who help build their own homes, end up with an affordable, no-interest mortgage.

“Everything is going very well,” said Ted Swisher, executive director, on June 19. “We’re probably as strong as we’ve ever been in terms of people and money and ideas. Just last week our ReStore reached a milestone, a million dollars in sales in a year. That’s a lot of stuff!”

The 15-year-old ReStore offers furniture — including a lot of the older, solid-wood furniture that contrasts with the new veneered-particleboard stuff hawked by the big-box stores — as well as building materials and more boutique items: furnishings, artwork and knick knacks. It also has a successful tool lending library.

Swisher said the store’s customers are a pretty varied bunch. “Really well-to-do people generally don’t come in to buy things for their homes, but they come in to donate. We have a lot of low-income people and a lot of young people.”

Speaking about the construction side of Habitat’s operations, Swisher said they had closed on five more lots in Oshara Village (off Richards Avenue) the week before. And not too long before that, Habitat received six donated lots in the Estancias de Las Soleras subdivision that Pulte Homes is building off Beckner Road. “Those were appraised at $90,000 each,” he said. “Each builder has to fulfill an affordable-housing obligation and they proposed kind of an alternative method for that subdivision and donating six to us was part of that obligation. We already have two of those under construction.

“Land has been a huge challenge for us, so it’s a tremendous advantage and relief to have a little inventory. Right now we have nine lots still to build on in the two subdivisions.”

He added that he was about to meet with Nick Lerek, who has been working on developing the Dos Acequias Subdivision next to the Mandela International Magnet School on Agua Fria Street. “That would be a great opportunity for teachers who qualify for our program to live next to the school.”

Habitat’s houses average 1,200 to 1,300 square feet and are built in the flat-roofed Spanish-Pueblo Revival style. They are also admirably green.

“Last year we made the decision to do rooftop photovoltaic panels on every new home,” Swisher said. Together with a hefty insulation package, the recent homes are getting Home Energy Rating System scores of between 13 and 17. “With 100 as the standard, our homes are using only 15 percent of the energy of a standard home.

“We’re also putting in a mini-split heat pump. As we’ve built more airtight, energy-efficient houses, the heat can be a problem in the summer. In Oshara, you’re not allowed to have swamp coolers, so that made it more difficult to have a livable summer. These heat pumps give you heat in the winter and cooling in the summer, and it’s quite affordable. We’re doing that in all of our houses now.”

Habitat Santa Fe also has a repair program. The organization collaborates with a veterans’ group for vets’ homes, but the typical client is a single woman on Social Security with a leaky roof. “We have helped so many people,” Swisher said. “It’s a terrific program and we hope to expand it.” Most of the funding for the repair program comes from the city’s Community Development Block Grant program.

Asked about funding for its homebuilding program, Swisher said the Santa Fe chapter of Habitat for Humanity has four major sources: mortgage payments from existing Habitat homes; fundraising from individuals, corporations and foundations; and revenues from the ReStore; as well as using some of its mortgages as collateral to borrow funds.

For more information, see santafehabitat.org and santaferestore.org (which includes a list of tools that can normally be found in the lending library).

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