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Habitat Begins Building Pasadena Homes


PASADENA — Habitat for Humanity, the 14-year-old group that has built or repaired 9,400 homes worldwide and lists former President Jimmy Carter as its most notable volunteer, has begun building in the San Gabriel Valley.

Ground was to be broken Saturday for two low-income townhouses in Northwest Pasadena, the first Habitat project in Los Angeles County.

The project at Cypress Avenue and Maple Street is sponsored by the fledgling San Gabriel Valley Habitat chapter, which started organizing in September, 1989. More homes are planned for Monrovia and El Monte, said Ace Cain, 70, a retired La Canada Flintridge real estate developer who helped start the local chapter.

Cain says the Pasadena homes represent the fulfillment of a spiritual quest that began three years ago in Nicaragua.

Prompted by a Habitat speaker who addressed members of St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church in La Canada, Cain and his wife in 1987 joined three other couples in Portas Viejas, a small town north of Managua where Habitat was building homes.

"It was fantastic," Cain said. "The men were lugging boards and pouring cement. The women were bending steel bars and wiring them together. . . . And with the exception of one couple, we were all over 60 years old."

The next year Cain traveled to Ariquipa, Peru, to work on another Habitat project. When he returned, he decided to commit to a full-time effort.

Now, the San Gabriel Valley chapter has a mailing list of more than 800, many of whom will be enlisted over the next few months to help with the Pasadena project, Cain said.

Land for the two-story, 1,000-square-foot townhouses cost the group $52,500. With volunteer labor and donated materials, the total cost will come to about $60,000 per unit, Cain said. Habitat will then select two low-income working families to buy the homes with interest-free, 20-year mortgages provided by Habitat.

But he added, "We build these, not for the people, but with the people." The families selected must put in 500 hours of work on their home or other Habitat projects--"sweat equity," as Habitat calls it.

Pasadena had 3,992 substandard housing units last year, Cain said. But, he added: "You do it one day at a time, one family at a time. There is no other way to do it."

The one-day-at-a-time effort is beginning to have increasing impact in Southern California, especially in Orange and San Diego counties, said Ken Karlstad, regional director for Habitat West.

Although the average age of Southern California Habitat chapters is only two years, 62 homes have been built or are under construction so far, he said. In addition, the San Diego chapter has constructed 100 homes in Tijuana and is building 43 homes in Baja California, Karlstad said.

More than 2,270 homes have been built in the United States and Canada, said Jim Purks, a spokesman at Habitat's headquarters in Americus, Ga. In Charlotte, N.C., 100 homes have been built, and Atlanta will complete its 100th home this year, Purks said.

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