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Habitat for Humanity marks start of construction of homes for Almeda fire survivors

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Garcia and Diaz families express their gratitude for the help building new homes in Talent Saturday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe Garcia family help raise the wall to their new home in Talent Saturday.
Walls raising ceremony for first two homes in Talent

Saturday marked a positive turning point for two families who lost their homes during last year’s Almeda fire.

The Garcias and Diazes helped volunteers raise walls Saturday during a construction kick-off ceremony at the two home sites on Arnos Road in Talent.

They are the first families to be chosen by Habitat for Humanity Rogue Valley to purchase homes that the organization will construct for its Almeda Homeownership Program, Phase 1.

Both lost their rental homes and all of their belongings perished — along with cherished memories.

These families are the 74th and 75th selected to take ownership of Habitat dwellings. They will be required to save a small down payment and pay off a 30-year mortgage provided by Habitat. Cost is lowered for these dwellings through the efforts of volunteers to construct the homes and donations to the organization.

Also required from the families chosen to purchase these homes is 500 hours sweat equity. This is done by participating in construction of their home or other Habitat homes. Other efforts that can be considered sweat equity include volunteering at the Habitat ReStore and completing homeowner classes that explain a variety of homeowner basics, such as safety, maintenance and finances.

The future homeowners also have to pay property taxes.

“This is definitely not a handout,” said Brandon Thoms, Habitat’s director of programs and operations. “This is a hard-earned hand up.”

The Garcias lived in Talent for nearly two decades before the fire and they were deeply rooted in that community. They ended up in Central Point after numerous attempts to find somewhere closer to live.

A translator helped some of the family members speak about their experiences.

Maria Garcia said the commuting is among lingering issues. Her husband, Miguel, commutes between Central Point and Ashland for his job, for example. Their older daughter, Lizbeth, 18, drives her younger brother and sister to school.

The Diazes have been in Talent for about eight years. After the fire, it took them time to find a rental there again. They were living in Applegate initially, but after about nine months they were able to find a rental in Talent.

Renting has become expensive for the family of five. Because of the fire, the family has gone through “a very traumatic transition,” Sara Diaz said.

In separate moments, Maria Garcia and Sara Diaz each thanked not only Habitat and members of the community for their assistance in helping their families pursue their dreams of owning their own homes.

“We at Habitat were searching for ways to help” those displaced by the fire, said Denise James, Habitat’s executive director.

James also greatly emphasized how much assistance has come from community members. A local Girl Scout Troop, No. 30021, presented a check to Habitat for $2,500. The youths raised the money through cookie sales.

The scouts also cooked a big batch of soup to help people at the ceremony stay warm during the outdoor event.

Two more homes in that location are planned for construction, and Habitat has secured a second location in Talent for home building as well, Thomas said.

The second site will be where Phase 2 of the Almeda Homeownership Program begins with the fifth and sixth houses for Almeda fire survivors.

Assisting these families to have secure homes and feel safe will allow them to return to focusing on more routine concerns, such as assisting their children completing their homework, James emphasized.

Dan Fowler, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Ashland, led a prayer and quoted from the bible, specifically a portion of Isaiah 61, “The Year of the Lord’s Favor.”

Section 4 states: “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

For details about applying to own a Habitat home or how to help Habitat provide this affordable housing, call (541) 779-1983 or visit roguevalleyhabitat.org/