ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE : Glimmer of Hope for a Home

Looking at Orange County's housing situation, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the number of low-income families who are stuck with renting apartments. Most could never afford to buy shelter here with median prices at $237,900--well over twice the median for the nation. With the number of homeless now topping 10,000, the low end of the housing picture in the county is pretty bleak.

Offering at least a glimmer of hope for some families is the Orange County chapter of Habitat for Humanity, which this week received a $100,000 award from the James Irvine Foundation. The money will help build a four-unit condominium project in Santa Ana and a two-unit project in Anaheim. Habitat also plans a two-acre housing project in Rancho Santa Margarita in partnership with Fieldstone Co. and the Santa Margarita Co.

Habitat, a nondenominational Christian housing ministry whose most famous advocate is former President Jimmy Carter, was founded on the principle that the poor need "capital, not charity." It takes an unusual approach to helping families purchase their first homes: Buyers must contribute 1,000 hours of labor to their own and similar projects and make a $500 down payment. In return, Habitat seeks donations from private industry and sells the shelter at cost. It also asks local governments to waive fees charged to developers and seek other assistance.

That approach combines some of the best elements of self-determination, hard work and responsibility to the community. And it involves government and the private sector in helping people who are willing to help themselves.

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