After three years on the verge of homelessness, Taffy Shahbozian and her 14-year-old daughter are moving into a completely made-over, two-bedroom home on Dakota Street in west Medford.
It's the second renovation — and the 46th home — provided by Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity.
The 1,150-square-foot house, built in 1949, was in "very bad shape" when it went into foreclosure, says Habitat Executive Director Denise James, but it was taken down to the studs and given new electrical, plumbing, roof, walls, flooring and windows.
After living in a series of pest-infested, moldy and dangerous homes, Shahbozian sees the house as a godsend. She even will be able to use a specially designed room in the house to help her launch a new food business — making super-nutritious power bars.
"I feel I have a new start in life," says Shahbozian, 62. "We have a place to live, to operate my business in ... and to get us on our feet. This is awesome. It's clean, free of infestation and has a place for a garden."
Habitat generally prefers to build houses from the ground up, because it can control the floor plan and keep costs minimal, says James. However, funds became available from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, an initiative of the Obama administration after the market crash, and Rogue Valley Habitat received $96,000 to rehab the house on Dakota.
Shahbozian will pay back the cost of the house and renovation on a 30-year, no-interest mortgage. Her home business, Shabobos Essential Nutrition, was helped by state Vocational Rehabilitation and by matching grants from savings she built up with Dream Savers Individual Development Accounts.
She lost her Jacksonville home to foreclosure after a divorce and lived in three marginal rentals with "infestations of spiders, termites, ants, mice and rats, inadequate heat, windows painted shut, leaky windows where water ran down the inside walls, inadequate kitchens without stoves, sparking, faulty wiring ... and the local homeless sleeping and defecating in the bushes of our yard and trying to gain entrance to our home in the middle of the night," Shahbozian says.
She was embarrassed and unable to ask for help, she says, but after seeing her Jacksonville home auctioned on the courthouse steps, "It does something to you, psychically and emotionally. We sold everything to make rent. It makes you feel you're worthless and have done something wrong."
But through the ordeal, Shahbozian says, she learned to speak up for herself.
"Now I'm so good at it. I learned so much through this, to stand up and be strong and persevere. There's a lot of help out there. You have to go find it. I got on the Habitat list in 2010 and kept calling them every month."
Job-seeking in a "jobless economy" was almost pointless, with employers asking for emailed resumes and job-seekers "never being able to talk to anyone."
Shahbozian invested (and recruited friends and volunteers to invest) 500 hours of sweat equity in the home, per Habitat rules. Her daughter, Samantha, helped with office work, including fundraising, at Habitat, and she plans to continue volunteering there and learning business skills.
"I feel so amazed at this new home and fresh start," says Samantha. "We used to not have friends over because the house was so small and we were embarrassed with it."
Shahbozian is working part-time as a nanny while she gets her food business going.
Her organic, vegan power bars are made of dates, chocolate, almonds, cherries, raisins, goji berries and sesame, chia and hemp seeds. They contain omega fatty acids, amino acids, enzymes, protein, minerals and vitamins, she says. She is marketing them to area food co-ops and other stores.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.