PORTLAND A newly minted U.S. citizen will soon become a homeowner thanks to an aggressive building campaign by Habitat for Humanity.

A few years ago Habitat for Humanity Portland Metro East had a big idea. As the state was in the depths of the Great Recession, the non-profit bought up land like crazy at rock bottom prices. Now that strategy is paying off and Habitat is building homes.

In Southeast Portland, nine families will get keys to new homes before the New Year.

The massive Habitat build will eventually include 45 families, each paying a mortgage based on 30 percent of their income.

Sandra Casillas came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was 12 years old and worked in the fields alongside her mother. Last month, she went from permanent resident to U.S. citizen.

She s also moving from being a renter to a homeowner. Casillas has been working with Habitat for a year, literally building her new home with them.

This is my bedroom, she said with pride on a recent tour of the home. I actually built the whole second floor.

She spent 500 hours working on the home, as required by Habitat for Humanity, all while she went to school and worked two jobs.

For years Casillas has moved from one apartment to the next. Casillas three daughters currently sleep in one tiny room.

She's already picked out which kids will get which of the four bedrooms.

I can t stop smiling, Casilla said. Just an amazing feeling to know this is mine.

You might think she'd be dying to show her kids the brand new house she made with her own hands, but she hasn t shown it to them yet.

She s been disappointed by the prospect of home ownership so many times before she doesn t want to get the children involved until she has keys in hand.

We get the, Sorry not this time, and I don t want to put my kids through that again, Casilla said.

Casillas plans to waits until the end of the month, when she gets her keys, to show her three girls and son what she and Habitat have been working on for a year.

For a family that hasn't had a lot of money for Christmas, it's the biggest gift Casilla has ever given or received.

And that feels amazing, Casillas said. It s hard to put words to that.


Reggie Aqui contributed to this report

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