John Gray, 92, knows what it’s like to sometimes have to go without. That’s why he was so interested in investing in Habitat for Humanity after hearing about its new initiative in Portland, Ore., Kirk Johnson says in The New York Times. The ingenuity of the initiative, Johnson says, is just the kind of thing that Gray looks for in his investments:

In a depressed real estate market, Habitat, the nonprofit housing group, was betting big: trying to buy vacant land on the cheap, shopping from banks in repossession and foreclosure sales to squirrel away for housing projects years in the future.

Gray, who made his money selling chain-saw equipment after World War II during America’s first real housing boom, donated $1 million to the local Habitat chapter. His donations—he later donated another $1 million to the state’s chapter—then brought in a wave of other donors.

Striking while the iron was hot was a big part of the initiative’s initial success, Johnson reports. Habitat took a bet on the land and bought it while it was cheap, and now that bet is paying off.

Now, as the economy here and along much of the coastal strip north to Seattle is recovering, vacant land in Portland is being snatched up. A big national homebuilder based in Miami, the Lennar Corporation, said in December that it was expanding in the Portland and Seattle markets, and prices for vacant land have soared…

Habitat may have acted just in the nick of time as bidding wars start to make a comeback and developers take advantage of the resurgence in demand for upscale housing.