One of the most persistent myths about Habitat for Humanity is that we give houses away for free. In fact, we sell homes at cost to qualifying individuals/families like the Gutierrez family who demonstrate a willingness to partner with us. These folks are what we call Partner Homebuyers and make no mistake: they don’t just buy their homes, they work for them, too.
Becoming a Partner Homebuyer
Partner Homebuyers are selected based primarily on three things:
- Need for housing. People living in substandard or unsafe conditions are good possible candidates for our program. The Gutierrez family home is severely overcrowded, a problem which often creates health concerns as well, thereby marrying substandard with unsafe – a deleterious combination.
- Willingness to partner. Becoming a Partner Homebuyer means entering into a long-term relationship with Habitat for Humanity. In the first place, building a home takes time and hard work. Then, once the home is built, homeowners remit their mortgage payments to Habitat. All in all, we’re talking about a relationship of up to 30 years or more. And with 250 hours of sweat equity to complete before construction even begins, that relationship begins with labor. Folks like the Gutierrez family have consistently demonstrated their desire to work alongside us toward a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
- Ability to repay the mortgage. Partner Homebuyers like the Gutierrez family have a proven history of prompt bill payments and the documented ability to pay their mortgage each month.
Transitioning to Habitat Homeowner
Soon the Gutierrez family will move into their new home. This transition signifies the culmination of about 16 months of consistent effort. After joining our program in April of 2015, they rolled up their sleeves immediately and got to work, primarily in our store. Within 7 months they’d completed their first 250 hours of sweat equity. Not content to rest on their laurels, the Gutierrez family worked even harder, completing another 250 hours by the end of the year. The home they’ll soon move into is far from free. They’ve paid with their labor and enthusiasm and will continue to pay with their pocketbooks. A true partnership, we’re proud to call the Gutierrez family our next Habitat Homeowners.
We’re getting closer to that house dedication we mentioned last month. The Gutierrez family home is coming along nicely with lots of work being done both inside and outside. Throughout June, volunteers helped to clean up the yard – filling in holes, pulling weeds, laying down planting mix and covering it with a protective layer of straw. Now Construction Manager Paul Stromdahl has his sights on finishing up the interior. Read More →
Here at Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County we make reference to ‘sweat equity’ quite a bit. What are we talking about? Specifically, folks who become Partner Homebuyers must perform 500 hours of labor – sweat equity – as part of the home buying process. But sweat equity signifies more than just labor. It also represents cost reduction, pride of ownership, and community investment.
Sweat Equity Reduces Costs
In order to offer affordable housing, we must look for ways to keep construction costs down. Sweat equity is one of those ways. Sweat equity allows us to use less paid labor than would normally be necessary, thereby reducing the overall cost of the houses we build. Without sweat equity, Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County wouldn’t be able to offer housing so affordably. As it is, a typical mortgage payment (before insurance and taxes) ranges from around $350 to $500 per month. With only $500 down and zero interest to pay, that’s remarkably affordable housing.
Sweat Equity Builds Pride
Justus Kempthorne, a business owner in New York State, says, “When you build something yourself, it has a heartbeat.” We agree. Sweat equity builds pride by creating a personal investment in both home and community. Our Partner Homebuyers literally sweat over their homes and the homes of other Partner Homebuyers. They partner (hence the term Partner Homebuyer) with Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County, going to work for us in the store, at build sites, in our office, and/or at events. In doing so, they invest not just in their own home, but in their community as well, thereby creating a sense of pride and belonging that often pays dividends in the form of consistent home maintenance and community participation for years to come.
Sweat equity is a winning strategy that’s good for Habitat, our Partner Homebuyers, and our community.
Construction on Telegraph Townhomes isn’t scheduled to start until Spring of 2017, but we’ve got a lot of work to do before that phase of the project can begin. Last week we crossed another item off our to-do list with the digging of test pits on the property in order to get the geological information we need to make sure storm water flows off the site in benign ways.
It Started with a Poker Game
During a friendly poker game, Executive Director John Moon and Bellingham local Steve LeCocq got to talking about Habitat for Humanity and the challenges of acquiring buildable land in Whatcom County. As it happened, LeCocq owned some of precisely that kind of land out on Telegraph Road. Moon contacted Kulshan Community Land Trust … would they be interested in partnering up? “We bought the property years ago to develop it,” LeCocq says. “So to have someone as cool as [Habitat and Kulshan CLT] come along ….” In short order, LeCocq’s land became the future site of Telegraph Townhomes.
Now We’re One Step Closer
In addition to selling his land to Kulshan CLT and Habitat, LeCocq also helps maintain it by mowing the 2.5 acres regularly. And last week he even climbed into a digger and dug the pits for the engineer! Thank you, Steve, for helping to make our Telegraph Townhomes project possible and for continuing to help us get closer to making that project a reality.
Please join us in congratulating the Gutierrez family on signing the paperwork for their new home! In a meeting with Executive Director John Moon yesterday, Jorge and Maria Elena signed the Purchase and Sales Agreement for what will be their 4 bedroom, 1 bath house in Sumas. The Gutierrez family joined Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County’s roster of Partner Homebuyers in early April of 2015. They got to work right away and quickly completed 500 hours of sweat equity. They’re very happy about their new home and are excited to move in. Construction Project Manager Paul Stromdahl says, “I’m aiming for the end of July,” for completion of the house. We can’t wait for the house dedication!
In 2009, we opened Habitat Store Whatcom in Ferndale. In June of 2014, we opened another store in Bellingham. We’ve since closed the Ferndale location, concentrating our retail operation in Bellingham. It’s been a rewarding 2 years with plenty of challenges to keep us growing as well as daily inspiration that helps to keep our eyes on our vision: a world where everyone has a decent place to live. We’re proud to offer Bellingham a retail outlet that actively helps bring that vision closer and closer to reality for our local community.
Come Celebrate with Us!
Today the store employs 10 hard-workers who are excited to earn a living wage in a way that makes a positive impact on others. We’re excited to celebrate the store’s success in Bellingham with you and invite you to come by today for cookies while you browse!
Drive to Build
Get your clubs ready! Whatcom County Association of Realtors (WCAR) is hosting their annual golf tournament on August 4th for the benefit of Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County. Sign up individually or in teams for your chance to compete on the beautiful North Bellingham Golf Course.
Moceri Construction Helps Out at Habitat Store Whatcom
Ryan, a member of the Moceri Construction Crew, showed up last week to volunteer at the store. He told us his boss sent him over when a mild injury prevented him from his regular duties but still left him able-bodied enough to work. Ryan spent the day building homes in a whole new way … by helping store staff receive and display donated furniture, building materials, and household items. Thank you Ryan and Moceri Construction!
Rehab Project Needs Volunteers
Our Construction Project Manager, Paul, is looking for volunteers for the next few Saturdays to work on a rehab project out in Sumas. This Saturday, June 11th, he plans to focus efforts on the outside of the dwelling, leaving inside repair and maintenance for the 18th and 25th. Interested? Give Janet a call at 360.715.9170 or email email@example.com.
Kendyl & Brooks (far left, right) with Mary & Dan VanDyken
Meet Kendyl and Brooks. Both seniors at Western Washington University, Kendyl and Brooks are preparing for a cross country bike ride that will take them from New Hampshire all the way back home to Bellingham – nearly 4,000 miles. Along the way they’ll help build safe, durable housing for families in need through Bike & Build, an organization dedicated to empowering young adults for service as well as to raising funds and awareness for affordable housing in the U.S.
Sharing the Affordable Housing Story
They sat down with Habitat homeowners Mary and Dan VanDyken to chat about Bike & Build, Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County, and the impact safe, decent, affordable housing has had on the VanDyken family. Kendyl and Brooks will take that conversation with them on the road, sharing the VanDyken’s story with the communities they visit along the way. This is part of a Bike & Build rider’s commitment: meet with people in the community affected by the affordable housing crisis and share what you’ve learned from them with others as you bike and build your way across the country. “Even when we’re not building, we’re interacting with communities and talking about affordable housing,” says Brooks.
The route Kendyl & Brooks will ride this summer
Ride Along in Spirit
Bike & Build riders on a trip
In 2 weeks, Kendyl and Brooks will fly East. But the work has already begun. In addition to racking up at least 500 miles of pre-trip biking, riders must raise a minimum of $4,500 to participate. It’s a far cry from the typical American college student’s idea of summer vacation. Even so, when we talked with Kendyl and Brooks about their preparations and the ride ahead, they were all smiles and enthusiasm. Echoing one of Habitat’s messages, Kendyl says, “So much is dependent on a good place to live.” Like Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County, these 2 Western students believe that everyone deserves a decent place to live, and everyone can do something today to help make that possible for another family. It doesn’t have to be biking across the country, though. Instead, visit their donation pages to ride with them in spirit and leave the pedaling to Kendyl and Brooks!
In August of 2015 our Board of Directors approved an ambitious plan to raise the minimum wage for non-probationary employees to $15.00 per hour. For months now we at Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County have been working toward that goal. Today we’re excited to announce our hard-won success: Habitat Store Whatcom now pays its staff living wages.
Aligning Mission and Operations
Our mission at Habitat for Humanity is to eliminate poverty housing conditions throughout the world. In the words of John Moon, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County, “It seems disingenuous to fight against poverty but pay poverty wages.” To better align our operations with our mission, a wage increase was necessary. Store staff, led by Manager Julia Menkee, has worked diligently for over 8 months to increase donations which in turn increases sales, thereby turning Habitat Store Whatcom into a retailer that can prioritize a living wage for its staff.
Strong Store, Strong Mission
It’s not just the staff who benefit from a stronger-performing Habitat Store. Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County – like any organization – has overhead. With its unprecedented level of financial support, the store helps to defray those costs. And when overhead is earned and not supported by donations, all donations help more families in need of a simple, decent, affordable home. “This means, true to Habitat’s hand-up, not hand-out core value, donations are invested and not consumed,” says John Moon. “As Habitat homes are sold at cost, not given away, purchased or donated materials are transformed into a mortgage income stream and the mortgage income stream purchases building materials for the next project.”
Help Keep Our Store Strong
The success of the Habitat Store and the Habitat Living Wage Initiative depends on the generosity of Whatcom County residents donating new and gently used household and construction items. Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County has successfully completed 40 projects since 1988 and is looking forward to beginning a 24-home project in Bellingham in 2017. Your donations help keep our store strong and help to turn home projects from great ideas to life-altering realities. Your donations build homes and change lives!
We had a fantastic time at our 14th Annual Raise the Roof Auction on Saturday evening, held for the first time at our Habitat Store on Cornwall Avenue in Bellingham. With around 175 guests and another 25 or so volunteers and staff, we definitely had a full house!
Over drinks and delicious appetizers (made and served by Linda Clow – one of our partner homebuyers – and volunteers from the Acme Presbyterian Church) we perused and bid on the wide variety of about 160 different silent auction items. From artwork and handcrafted pottery to gift baskets and getaways, there was plenty to tempt us all. Once the proverbial dust had settled from the competitive silent auction bidding, we got down to some very merry business in the form of the live auction led by local auctioneer and businessman, Michael Watters. A natural entertainer, Watters had us engaged and enjoying ourselves all evening. We dined on a barbecue spread catered by Dickey’s Barbecue in Ferndale then indulged in an array of desserts donated by local bakeries. By the end of the evening, we were full, smiling, and sporting lighter wallets!
Every Bid Matters
As much fun as we had, it’s the ‘sporting lighter wallets part’ that amounts to real change right here in our community. The unfortunate truth is that the average wage in Whatcom County is not enough to afford a 2-bedroom apartment. That’s just one of many difficult facts that motivates us here at Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County to keep raising roofs. Every auction item donated and sold is another step towards affordable home ownership, like our upcoming Telegraph Townhomes project, for local families. Habitat for Humanity builds strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter, and when you support events like our Raise the Roof Auction, you do more than just have a great time … you build homes.
We offer our heartfelt gratitude to every guest, sponsor, donor, and volunteer who helped make our 14th Annual Raise the Roof Auction both a delight and a success. To say we couldn’t have done it without you is understating things wildly. Visit our Auction photo album on Facebook to see more photos from Saturday night and follow us to learn more about what Habitat for Humanity is up to here in Whatcom County!