Home at Last

Navigating the complicated terrain of homeownership requires deep resourcefulness, a high tolerance for the unexpected, and, always, the ability to see past the challenge at hand to the rewards waiting just beyond — just ask Paula-Noel Macfie.

“The vision is what pulls me through,” she says. “I m a visionary person. I dream, visualize, fixate. I always have to be chewing on something.”

Getting herself and her two girls, Zoey and Kalani, into their Parkrose Heights home definitely required a bit of vision, and a little ingenuity, too. Macfie, a natural-born researcher with a Ph.D. in integral studies, first caught wind of the Community Land Trust (CLT) model of homeownership 15 years back. She was intrigued.

CLTs create permanently affordable homeownership opportunities through a shared-equity, land-lease arrangement: The CLT purchases a property, which it then sells to a low- to moderate-income family. By retaining ownership of the land beneath its homes, CLTs ensure homeownership opportunities remain accessible to community members with a fixed income.

The setup appealed to Macfie’s independent sensibilities: Though the terms of the lease would require her to pass the home to another low-income family if she ever wants to move, the arrangement would also enable her daughters to eventually inherit the property
if she stays put.

“This was a way I could afford to [buy] without having to rely on family, parents or other people,” she says.

So she made inroads with local CLT Proud Ground (then Portland Community Land Trust) and the Native American Youth and Family Center (the family identifies as American Indian), and she got down to work: taking classes, paying down debts, building credit.

Meanwhile, life threw some curveballs: Macfie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis; had a daughter; experienced and escaped domestic violence; had another daughter.

Still, she kept at it, with a tenacity for which she credits her Irish ancestors, who fled to Oregon to escape genocide. “There’s something in me to survive,” she says.

Finally, in 2012, using a down payment assistance grant, Macfie purchased her Proud Ground home: a 1956 Northeast Portland ranch on the market for $113,000.

It would take months of rehabbing to get it livable, and, as any homeowner knows, the upkeep didn’t stop there. In the years since, she’s battled leaky pipes, mold and unscrupulous contractors. No matter; Macfie remains a tireless seeker of resources and saver of dollars.

Right now, the home’s front half is being gutted and redone, thanks to a home improvement grant, and the family has temporarily decamped to a hotel. It’s crazy-making, admits Macfie, but, as always, she’s taking the longer view of things.

She’s maintained close ties throughout the years with the Proud Ground community, and this month, she’ll speak out for CLTs by traveling to Washington, D.C., to share her story as an ambassador for the Grounded Solutions Network. As Portland’s housing prices soar, she’s increasingly determined to help others like her find their own paths to homeownership.

This journey can be intense, trying and downright exhausting, but finding a place to call your own, in sickness and health?

That, says Macfie, is priceless: “The world around me is spinning out of control. To have the groundedness of a safe place? To me, it’s the most precious treasure I have.”

Erin Bernard

Erin Bernard

Writer & Photographer at Erin J. Bernard Writing Studio
Erin J. Bernard is a freelance writer, editor and photographer who just can’t get enough of the Pacific Northwest.
Erin Bernard

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