By Joseph Ditzler

The Bulletin

With labor supplied by young men and women learning the construction trade, Housing Works is starting a project Tuesday in Madras to build homes for agricultural workers.

The single-family home going up at SW Third and H streets is the first of six to come, with the last estimated to be completed by June 2017, said Kelly Fisher, client services manager for Housing Works, the public housing agency for Central Oregon. The remainder will go up on SW Lincoln Court and SW I Street, she said.

The homes, built with plans and materials provided at cost by Simplicity by Hayden Homes, will be leased with an option to buy, Fisher said. Applicants must meet income and employment qualifications.

“It’s going to be a pretty amazing opportunity to get homeownership,” Fisher said Thursday, “to get into a house and get equity before they buy it.”

The 1,234-square-foot homes will cost about $140,000 to build, she said. NeighborImpact, a private nonprofit agency that assists homebuyers, is also behind the project, along with Heart of Oregon’s YouthBuild program. Bank of the Cascades is providing financing.

To qualify for the Madras homes, applicants must earn 80 percent of area median income, $41,700 for a family of four, or less, and work in a job classified as agricultural by the U.S. Department of Labor, Fisher said. That classification encompasses a wide field, from aquaculture to logging.

“The plan is we’ll rent for $650 a month and after 10 years, (sell it) for around $125,000,” she said.

The latest Beacon Report of home sales in Central Oregon showed the median price for a single-family home at about $105,000 in Jefferson County in the second quarter. The median price for a home in Bend reached $329,000 during the same period. Rentals were scarce in Madras in April, when the annual survey by the Central Oregon Rental Owners Association found vacancy rates at 2.8 percent in apartment complexes of five units or more, and 1.8 percent for homes.

In Madras, 42 percent of its approximately 6,400 residents pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing, Fisher said.

The Heart of Oregon YouthBuild program is providing general labor for the project; subcontractors will provide electrical, plumbing and other specialty work, said Laura Handy, Heart of Oregon executive director. YouthBuild provides young people ages 16 to 24 who’ve dropped out of school an opportunity to learn construction skills while also working toward a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate.

Sky Nelson, 17, is one of about 30 YouthBuild participants helping with construction at Third and H streets. She’s good with a hammer and power saw, she said Thursday, but gets as much satisfaction helping her community as driving nails and ripping lumber. She knows from experience, she said, how difficult life can be without a home of one’s own.

“There’s a serious lack of affordable housing, and it’s just nice to be able to help out,” Nelson said. “I’ve always lived in places where it’s hard to find somewhere to live, or with four other people in an apartment. But it’s nice to build a place for a family to live by themselves.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7815,