Organization creating its own neighborhood in area

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FARMINGTON — One sunny afternoon last week Tres Rios Habitat for Humanity construction supervisor Greg Anderson wandered around a vacant Crouch Mesa lot where the latest Habitat project will be built. He pondered the possibilities with a smile on his face.

"For this one, I'd like to get softer up front and build a craftsman-style porch," Anderson said, describing the latter as a structure with a tapered base that he said is popular in the Durango, Colorado, area.

Anderson understands and accepts the budget limitations that go along with building a home for Habitat, an international nonprofit organization that partners with families to build affordable housing. But he likes to do what he can to make each home unique, and for this one, he was focusing on sprucing up the front and back porches and hoping that a donor would agree to supply a tube skylight for the living room.

"It's not something we would normally have, but that's a nice touch," former board member and current Habitat volunteer Frank Hayes said.

The recipient of that new home, lifetime Farmington resident Santana Garcia, was announced earlier this month. The mother of four daughters — ages 9, 8, 5 and 4 — Garcia had applied for the program once before. She said she was surprised and excited to be chosen this time to partner with the nonprofit organization in the construction and purchase of the house.

As of Monday afternoon, the day workers were scheduled to begin construction, Garcia said she had not even seen the lot, though she had heard from many people about its impressive views, which include the San Juan Mountains and the Shiprock pinnacle.

"I was thinking about calling Frank to go up and see it," she said.

Garcia said she was thrilled at the prospect of owning her own home, something she had never considered a possibility, given her modest finances. But the Habitat for Humanity model — which requires those chosen for the program to put 200 hours of "sweat equity" into the construction of a home while taking advantage of its no-interest mortgages — has made that possible. By Monday, she was sounding like any other enthusiastic home buyer, one fretting over color and countertop options, and spending a lot of time browsing through Pinterest for decorating ideas.

"I'm just trying to make some decisions," she said, explaining that she was searching for the just the right shade of gray for the home's exterior paint. "I don't want anything to look mismatched."

Garcia's home will be 1,440 square feet with three bedrooms, two full bathrooms and a two-car garage. It will be the third home Habitat has built on County Road 3319 on Crouch Mesa and the fourth home by the organization in the vicinity.

Hope Tyler, the public relations director for Habitat's Tres Rios chapter in Farmington, said chapter officials didn't set out to establish a de facto Habitat neighborhood on the mesa. But when they had the opportunity purchase several lots in the same area for a good price, they took advantage of it.

"There was some question that if Habitat comes in and builds a bunch of homes, will it affect the home values in the area," she said. "And what we've discovered is that we've actually raised the home values up here because we're building nice homes."

Habitat officials also like the idea of the Habitat families on the mesa serving as a support system for each other. They face many of the same financial challenges, and they are first-time homeowners dealing with maintenance issues that are new to them.

Hayes said it typically takes the local chapter five to six months to build a new home, meaning Garcia and her daughters can expect to move in just before Christmas. That will be a welcome development for the family, which is dealing with a current living situation that is less than desirable — one of many reasons why they were chosen to partner with the organization, Tyler said.

Hayes said the family is living in a three-bedroom mobile home with part of the ceiling caving in, cabinets that are jutting out, a front door that doesn't close, windows that don't open and a bathroom that doesn't work. Tyler said their Farmington neighborhood is not the safest, so getting the family moved to another area is a priority.

But she stressed Garcia and her family will be expected do everything they can to earn their new home, as program recipients are required to attend homeowner classes that cover budgeting, maintenance and cleanliness in addition to fulfilling the "sweat equity" requirement.

"We're not giving anything away," she said, emphasizing that although Habitat mortgages are designed to be affordable, payments have to be made in full and in a timely fashion.

More: Farmington Habitat for Humanity chapter acquires lots in Aztec neighborhood

She said the Garcias seem to be a very good example of the kind of family for which the Habitat program is designed. She described Garcia as a conscientious, hard-working mother and her daughters as delightful. She also said Garcia has deep family roots in Farmington, and that will help her navigate some of the issues associated with owning a home.

"We try to pick people who are going to have the best success story," Tyler said.

Garcia said she has no construction skills, but she's looking forward to developing some. She's excited about using her own hands to help build her own home.

"I can't wait until it's finished," she said. "I'm very blessed. God does answer prayers."

This will be the Tres Rios chapter's 11th home in San Juan County. For more information about the organization, call 505-592-7761 or visit tresrioshabitat.com.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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