Habitat for Humanity of Orange County held a ribbon-cutting ceremony of a new affordable housing community for seniors on Thursday. The Crescent Magnolia community in Hillsborough is the first in the nation built by Habitat strictly to improve affordable home ownership for residents 55 years-old and older.

Orange County resident and senior Michelle Porchia helped build one of the buildings by cutting insulation, hammering nails and screwing in doorknobs. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, she shared her memory of seeing the first one-story townhouse building be constructed.

“To watch it go from a hole in the ground to a complete building unit was just amazing,” Porchia said. “I was there when the first wall [went] up and I was so excited that I was jumping up and down.”

By working with Habitat and following its sweat equity policy, Porchia will soon be a homeowner in Crescent Magnolia herself. She said there are many benefits for seniors like herself to move into a community like this.

“You don’t have to worry about your rent going up or somebody buying the property [and forcing you] to move,]” said Porchia. “It’s nice to be around people close to your age where you can check on each other. [People] talk about ‘aging-in-place’ and at this point of time, it’s a big deal [for some residents.]”

Another reason the community is attractive is how difficult it is to find affordable housing for seniors in Orange County. According the 2018 Senior Housing Report, residents over the age of 65 are the most cost-burdened age group in the county. It’s one of the main reasons Habitat for Humanity and Blue Cross Blue Shield partnered to create the 24-unit neighborhood in Hillsborough.

CEO and president of Habitat for Humanity of Orange County Jennifer Player said Blue Cross’ contribution of $100,000 to the project is their largest donation ever to her Habitat affiliate. She also said many other Habitat organizations have shown interest in the Crescent Magnolia model of affordable housing communities. After Orange County’s Habitat for Humanity presented at the organization’s state and national conventions, other affiliates have visited to tour the units and learn about them.

“The senior housing issue is not just isolated to Orange County,” Player said. “People all over are having these same concerns. It’s exciting to pave the way and hopefully some of the lessons we learn will be helpful to other Habitat affiliates as they try to serve seniors in the same way.”

Player said engaging the senior community of Orange County and seeing both current and future Crescent Magnolia residents at the ribbon-cutting ceremony was inspirational.

“If you look around and you listen to their stories, the things they’ve dealt with in their life, and what’s led them to this point,” said Player, “it really feels incredible to give back to people who have given so much to our community through their work, service, and lives.”

For Porchia, the chance to construct the units was not only a learning experience, but a way to connect with her new community and appreciate the contributions from all parties involved.

“I just think that this is a wonderful opportunity and I’m so glad that Habitat of Orange County did see this need and has met it. I think this is going to be a great example of what is needed in the future.”

While one building of Crescent Magnolia is complete, the remaining ones are expected to be finished and occupied by next spring.