Kenai donates 5 lots to Habitat for Humanity

The central Kenai Peninsula chapter of Habitat for Humanity will build a house in Kenai every two years until 2026, using five properties the Kenai City Council donated to the organization Wednesday.

Kenai obtained the five wooded lots — located in Mommsens Subdivision, a residential area to the south of Wildwood Correctional Facility — through tax and assessment foreclosures in 1987.The city attempted to sell them in public sales in 2005 and 2007, but got no bids. Rather than allowing them to remain vacant, the city will donate one at a time to Habitat for Humanity, which will settle the unpaid balance of the city and Kenai Peninsula Borough taxes and begin work on a house that must be finished within the next two years, according to the text of the unanimously-passed donation ordinance.

The total assessed value of the properties is $50,000, and the total unpaid city and borough taxes due on them is $27,242.35, according to information presented to the council.

Kenai gave Habitat for Humanity the same building schedule in 2009 when the city made a similar donation of five foreclosed properties in the same neighborhood, giving the organizaion until 2018 to finish building the five homes. The group did so in November 2015 and requested the city donate five more properties on the same conditions.

Those five previous houses are among 15 that Habitat for Humanity has built in Kenai, and among 21 the group has built on the peninsula, according to the central peninsula chapter’s vice president, Bill Radtke, who said this number gives the peninsula the most Habitat houses per capita in the world.

“We started in 1994 and we try to build one house a year,” Radtke said. “A couple years we haven’t had enough money and we haven’t been able to build one.”

All these houses have been filled, Radtke said, and he sees no sign of diminishing demand — Central Peninsula Habitat for Humanity usually gets between nine and 19 applicants for each house. Local housing, Radtke said, can be difficult for minimum-wage working families to attain.

“In Kenai, you’re looking at $800, $900 a month rent for a real substandard place, or a mediocre place,” Radtke said. “These are people who are hurting to start out with, but who can end up owning a home for half the price.”

Using volunteer labor, Radtke said Central Peninsula Habitat for Humanity can build a house for about $117,000. Once the house is completed, Habitat holds a 20-year mortgage on it, for which Radtke said the recipient pays about $500 a month, interest-free.

Habitat has three conditions for choosing occupants of its houses. First, they must have a sustainable income — between $17,000 to $40,000 per year, Radtke estimated — and second, they must presently occupy unsafe housing.

“That could be the floor’s falling through, the roof is leaking, and they’re living in deplorable conditions,” Radtke said. “One of our families lived in a quonset hut with five kids, no running water, and no bathroom.”

The recipient must also contribute 500 hours of “sweat equity” — either working on the house themselves, or having other volunteers contribute work on the recipient’s behalf, if the recipient is disabled, Radtke said.

Kenai council member Jim Glendening said his own experience moving to Kenai prompted him to vote for the donation.

“I’ve seen that affordable housing has always been an issue in Kenai,” Glendening said. “When I brought my family up from the Midwest — I could finally bring them up in ‘72 — we were hard pressed to find a place that provided adequate shelter and yet was affordable.”

Council member Tim Navarre pointed out that vacant city-owned lots don’t earn property tax.

“These parcels are undeveloped, and with houses going on them we will collect taxes — they aren’t tax exempt after the housing goes on them,” Navarre said. “So that’s an additional reason why I will be supporting this partnership …”

If Habitat for Humanity starts building the first of its new houses this year as planned, it won’t be the only affordable housing project going up in the area. In the middle of this year, the nonprofit Kenai Housing Initiative also plans to start constructing senior and low-income housing on portions of the 77-acre woods on Redoubt Avenue, adjacent to the Habitat donations, which the city donated to it in June 2016.

For the future Habitat houses in Mommsens Subdivision, Kenai Pensinsula Borough School District students may be among the volunteers contributing labor. Radtke, retired from teaching at Kenai Middle School, said Habitat and the district are working on a plan to put students from the vocational Career and Technical Education program to work on Habitat houses.

Radtke said interested volunteers can find a work schedule and contact information on the group’s website: www.hfhcentralpeninsula.org. Those interested in living in one of the future houses can also apply at the website.

Reach Ben Boettger at ben.boettger@peninsulaclarion.com.

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