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The Cully Place community offers duplexes and triplexes to families on Northeast Killingsworth Street in Portland.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - New homeowners check out the Cully Place development on Northeast Killingsworth Street during a rainy Saturday, Dec. 7, in Portland. More than 50 people have a hearth to call their own in Northeast Portland's Cully neighborhood, thanks to another completed development by Habitat for Humanity.

Cully Place — a 15-home community comprised of duplexes and triplexes with three, four and five bedrooms at 5640 N.E. Killingsworth St. — welcomed the final installment of seven families on Saturday, Dec. 7.

"I grew up in this neighborhood," said Ronisha Harris, one of the new homeowners. "Due to rent increases in 2012, I've been living in Washington. I'm honored to come back."

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Hammers and placards were distributed to honor the business sponsors and new homeowners at a Habitat for Humanity project in Cully. Harris, 44, praised Portland Housing Bureau for helping her navigate the city's North/Northeast Preference Policy. The bureau, in turn, waived the system development charges for the project, slashing its cost significantly.

Now, instead of commuting each day from Vancouver, Harris will be turning the key on a place of her own.

"I'm very excited," she said, "being able to move back into the community I was displaced from."

With the lack of affordable housing squeezing Oregonians across the state, the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity has launched an ambitious five-year plan to ramp up production. After historically building about 20 homes in the area each year, the Habitat board aims to provide 100 families new or refurbished housing annually. In 2020, the organization plans to build and sell 52 homes.

State lawmakers are doing their part as well. A $3 million LIFT grant will help fund construction of 41 homes, including 10 in Cully on a half-acre site at Northeast 60th Avenue and Simpson Street, and the rest in Southeast Portland near Mall 205.

"Incomes haven't changed for 10 years, housing prices have gone up really quickly," said Steve Messinetti, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East. "We're just seeing so many more families that are struggling to get by."

The appraised value of the Cully Place homes is more than $350,000 — and the sticker price is close to $210,000 — but Habitat for Humanity ensures that the new homeowners' mortgage payment is no more than 30 percent of their income, which ranges from about $30,000 to $50,000.

PMG PHOTO: ZANE SPARLING - Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer is chair of the Oregon House's committee on housing and human servicesThe keynote speaker of the ceremony was state Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer. The chair of the House's committee on housing and human services has been pushing for years to scale back the mortgage interest deduction, which she says costs the state about $1 billion every two years — with about $600 million of the tax credit for homeowners going to the state's top 20% by income bracket.

"There's so much we could do with those funds," Keny-Guyer said. "It's outrageous to me that our largest housing subsidy goes to the people who are most housing secure."

Despite the drizzle, a number of other elected officials turned out for the big event, including state Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, state Rep. Jeff Reardon, state Sen. Lew Frederick, Metro Councilor Christine Lewis and Gresham City Councilor Mario Palmero.


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