As Whitney sat at a table in one of Placer Title’s conference rooms in Grass Valley, signing her name to a sales agreement for her new home, it marked the end of a long journey. For Whitney it was the crescendo of a process that led her to take the keys of her new home. And for Nevada County Habitat for Humanity it brought to completion the Heritage Oaks neighborhood.
“This is a proud day for all of us,” said Lorraine Larson, Executive Director for Nevada County Habitat. “Whitney’s home – and all of the homes in the neighborhood – has been a dream come true for not only our homeowners, but for all of the volunteers and donors who’ve given so generously of their time and money. It’s been a labor of love.”
The neighborhood, located on Joyce Drive, just behind the Church of Christ on Whiting Street, was conceived in 2009 and was the most ambitious project the organization had undertaken to-date. After three years of planning, site development and finally building, the keys to the first home were handed over in January 2012. From that point forward Nevada County Habitat and a dedicated crew of construction volunteers worked side-by-side with enthusiastic homeowners to build their homes.
They didn’t just build houses – they created a new neighborhood.
“Every day I walk out the door to go to work I am reminded of how fortunate we are, and how grateful I am.” Says Corrine, who with her husband Matt and two children, moved into their home five years ago. “We love our home, our neighborhood and our community. During our five years in our home my faith has strengthened, especially in myself. Our lives have changed exponentially. This truly is a ‘forever home’ for us.”
That sentiment is shared among the 16 homeowners now residing in the neighborhood. While they share the same issues that any homeowner will have to eventually face – like home repairs and increasing costs of insurance – they also share a unique experience as Habitat homeowners. They each had to go through a rigorous qualification process and each of them invested a minimum of 500 hours of sweat equity, working side-by-side with construction volunteers in building their home. Together their hard work has added a valuable and needed housing asset, and further adds to the impact Nevada County Habitat has had within the community.
With the completion of Heritage Oaks, Nevada County Habitat has built 37 homes since 1996. Under the “partnership housing” model homeowners’ affordable monthly payments are kept at or below 30% of their monthly income.
“It’s extremely expensive to build in California,” says Larson. “Most families of moderate means cannot afford to buy a home in Nevada County. Even rents have become prohibitive. Without the opportunity Habitat has provided, many of these families would have relocated to more affordable areas to live – including moving out of California altogether. The Heritage Oaks development is as much about preserving the quality of life in our community as it is about giving individual families the opportunity to build a home.”
“Our sweat, and sometimes tears are a part of the landscape here,” said Corrine. “This neighborhood is ours, and we’re very proud of it. We each helped to build it.”
For Whitney, the newest homeowner in the neighborhood, the feelings of gratitude are ever present. “Joining this neighborhood with people that have had to go through the same process, fight the same odds with the same patience, perseverance and persistence is beautifully overwhelming. In a life where I am struggling to provide for my family’s needs, and now I’m providing them with something I never would have dreamed possible – this is the light at the end of a dark tunnel.”
Nevada County Habitat for Humanity has already begun its next build, constructing three new homes with three families at Stennett and Kendall Streets in Grass Valley. A fourth family for the final home to be constructed at the site will be selected later in 2020.