Ontario contractor finds building affordable housing is not mission impossible

James Grissett an Ontario contractor, talks about the new townhouse he built in north Ontario recently. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

ONTARIO – A local contractor is determined to help people get on their feet with affordable housing and is methodically sprucing up a section of Ontario to make that hope a reality.

“My whole thing is to help people advance because I didn’t have anyone to help me,” said James Grissett.

Over the past year and a half, Grissett kicked off a building and buying binge of sorts along River Street and North Oregon Street, where he transformed dilapidated housing and lots into new structures.

“The goal is affordable housing. There are no corners cut. I take pride in my work,” said Grissett.

Grissett said his idea to provide affordable housing flared more than 10 years ago after he purchased a house in the county along Oregon Highway 201.

At the time Grissett was going to Treasure Valley Community College and working full time. Then he was diagnosed with cancer.

“So, it took me about seven years to flip the house. Three years ago, I finally sold it,” said Grissett.

With money in hand Grissett decided he wanted to reinvest in the community.

“At the time, I guess, mentally and physically I was at a place where I could help someone,” said Grissett.

Grissett said “an opportunity” to buy a small house on a modest lot on River Street presented itself.

“It used to be a meth house and it was run down,” said Grissett.

Grissett used the profits from the first house he flipped to spearhead work on a new fourplex on River Street. The fourplex consists of two, two-bedroom, one bath units and a three-bedroom, two baths along with a one-bedroom, one-bath American with Disabilities Act compliant unit.

Once built, Grissett said rent would be $910 – somewhat lower than the average cost of rent in town.

“I am very picky about who lives in the units,” said Grissett.

The completion of the fourplex prompted Grissett to move ahead on a townhouse and a triplex project on North Oregon Street.

The triplex is nearly finished. Two of the four units of the town house are completed.

The triplex consists of two, two-bedroom, one bath units and downstairs in the building is a four-bedroom, two bath unit,

The townhouse features three-bedroom two and half bath units.

Next to that townhouse, Griffith plans to lay the foundation for a three-bedroom, two-bath starter house he plans to sell for “under $250,000.”

Grissett already sold one unit of the townhouse – to a single mother of five.

As Grissett sells or rents the properties, he plows the profits into future projects.

Grissett said he minimizes costs as much as possible while at the same time investing in quality craftmanship.

For example, he said his homes are “extremely energy efficient.”

“The average light bill is $60 for each unit,” said Grissett. “If I am going to try to help someone better themselves, I can’t have a place that isn’t energy efficient.”

Grissett, who works full time with IBM as an infrastructure engineer, completes his contracting work after hours or on the weekends.

“Weekends and nights are everything,” he said.

Grissett, 49, said he wants to provide not only affordable housing but “nice housing.”

“If you have pride in where you live, there is a lot to say about that,” he said.

Grissett said he spent a lot of time finding the right subcontractors.

“I use them because they know my goal,” he said.

Grissett’s affordable housing endeavor hasn’t been easy, he said. Last year, as he worked to get one of his townhouses finished, he injured his back.

“I had to have back surgery,” he said.

Also, he said, finding affordable land to build affordable housing is an ongoing challenge.

Grissett said once he decided he wanted to make a difference and help the community, he spent time acquiring his contractor license then crafted the plans for the townhouses on his own.

Grissett said the city’s administrative staff – specifically interim city manager Dan Cummings and his staff – proved to be crucial.

“I like what he is doing. It is amazing that someone is willing to invest money into a depressed area,” said Cummings.

Grissett said his desire to help people find affordable housing is rooted in his own childhood. He grew up the son of a single mom in a family that often struggled to make ends meet.

“I’ve lived in houses where walls were missing. I watched my mom and my sister struggle,” he said.

Grissett said it is possible to build – even in an era of skyrocketing prices for materials – affordable housing for low-income residents.

“I want these homes to be for families that couldn’t afford it otherwise,” he said.

NOTE CORRECTION: An earlier print version of this story listed Grissett’s last name as Griffith. That has been corrected in this online version.

News tip? Contract reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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