Our Partner Homebuyers
Located 25 miles southeast of Bellingham, Washington, the rural town of Acme is nestled in the South Fork Valley between the North Cascades and Lake Whatcom. In the winter of 1975, Linda Clow and her family moved to Acme and into what were two former bunkhouses joined together to make one dwelling. The bunkhouse-based house, built in the 1920s as part of the expanding timber industry in the South Fork Valley, is where Linda has lived for 43 years.
She had always dreamed of traveling to Europe, especially to Greece. “I wanted to travel. I had the money saved in the bank. But my husband worried it would be too hard for us to find a house if we went traveling after the end of our commercial fishing season. One summer we’d had a really bad season, and my husband had to sell his boat. We had to make a choice, so we bought this house instead of traveling.”Like many pioneers, Linda’s entire life has embodied strength and self-reliance. After years of working hard in the fishing industry, she became a school bus driver, ferrying children to and from schools in Kendall, Harmony, and Acme for 27 years.
The years haven’t been kind to Linda’s cobbled-together house or to her health. The damp North Cascades mountain climate has, over the years, reduced the structural integrity of Linda’s 1920s house to near collapse. Deep moss covers the disintegrating roof. Decay and deterioration have made routine maintenance impossible. Living so many years in an increasingly unlivable house has compromised her health.“My old house should have come down a long time ago. I was talking about buying a modular home. Then, while talking with my pastor, she said, ‘Why don’t you try Habitat?’
“I started out going to a class at Lowe’s, to learn how to use some basic construction tools. Then I went to Habitat’s Lowe’s Women Build day out on Telegraph Road. I couldn’t do much because I had just had back surgery. But I made food for everyone and did what I could. Then I started working in the Habitat Store. I had to have 500 hours of sweat equity. I believe I have 1,500 hours now. The Store staff is really friendly and genuine.”
Construction began on her new home in 2018. Throughout construction, the old front porch has been the scene of countless lunches with her volunteer work crews, neighbors, and well-wishers. “When Habitat started building my home, it was getting cold. So I made a pot of soup and told the guys that they didn’t have to hang out outside. There was no building out there then. I knew it was going to get colder, so I invited them up here to the porch. That’s been the really fun part for me.” Linda’s new, warm home will be finished in February 2019. Complete with passive insulation, triple-pane windows, an air-to-air heat exchange system, and solar panels, her new home embodies Habitat’s mission to build “net-zero-ready” homes. “I love the people who’ve worked on my home. They’re like another family.”
Julio Ortiz came to the United States from Guatemala in 2006, alone. A trained teacher, he had earlier worked for six years teaching in three different communities. He had every intention of remaining a teacher. For 31 years, he had lived with his mother and six siblings in a small two-room house. Julio married in 2002, and as some siblings moved out and space opened up, he and his wife remained at home with his mother.
“It was hard in Guatemala. I made about $200 a month as a teacher. I originally planned to work only two or three years in the United States, then return to be a teacher in Guatemala. But in 2008, my wife and my two kids were also able to come
here, and that changed everything.”
The Ortiz family has since grown to five children. Both parents work, Julio as a farm laborer, and his wife in a plant nursery when Julio’s farm season stops for the year. Julio then takes over at the home with his children, while his wife works fulltime.
Julio works at the same 500-acre raspberry and strawberry farm where he started in 2002. Today, he drives the heavy farm machinery, one of ten drivers, spraying and cultivating up to 10 hours a day every summer. During the growing season, about 10 months each year, his hours can be long, with crews working from 7 a.m. to midnight. But with his seniority, Julio has been able to “cut back” to 11 hours a day. He spends his “extra” time with his children in the evenings.
10 months each year, his hours can be long, with crews working from 7 a.m. to midnight. But with his seniority, Julio has been able to “cut back” to 11 hours a day. He spends his “extra” time with his children in the evenings.
“I like my work. Every year I work about ten months. From February to the end of November. When I take time off, my wife works. In the summer my wife also works at the berry farm.”
The family was living in a rental house in Everson when they applied for the Habitat program in Whatcom County. The rental had three bedrooms and one bathroom. His sister-in-law and her husband took one bedroom. His two older children, a boy and a girl, were in another room. The third bedroom was used by Julio and his wife and their two small boys. Another brother-in-law lived in the living room. Rent was $1,100 per month, which was challenging on a seasonal farm laborer’s pay. Julio and his wife were responsible for half the rent.
Julio attempted to buy the Everson rental, to lock in a predictable monthly payment. “I almost bought it,” he said. “The owner offered to sell me the house. I went to the bank with my cousin, who said ‘Let’s ask.’ So, I applied, and they checked where I worked and how much I made, and I didn’t qualify. I thought we’d live in a rental house forever. But then Habitat came.” Even after successfully applying to Habitat, it took five years before Julio and his family could move into their Habitat home.
During slow days on the farm, Julio and his wife worked their 500 sweat-equity hours in the Habitat Store, and they did another 100 hours during the construction of their new home in the Birch Bay area. The family moved into their new home in August 2017.
“Living here, with my wife and kids, to have my own house, I feel completely happy. I trust in Habitat. I put my hope in Habitat. I’m thankful.”
Santiago Reyes Family
The Santiago Reyes family came to Washington in 2006. Aracely was pregnant when she and Eli arrived. They came to work in agriculture, on a raspberry farm in Lynden, Washington. Their first house was a small, drafty cabin on the raspberry farm where they both worked. The couple came to be with family, a common desire among those working on Washington’s berry farms.
Life in the small farm cabin was very difficult, especially in winter. There was a stove, electricity, and a small refrigerator, but no bathroom and no running water. Getting snowed in was common in winter, confining the family, who couldn’t leave or work. They had no heat. Seasonal workers often live in inadequate housing and face insecurity because even though they can’t work all year, they must still find rent.
Aracely’s extended family eventually left Lynden and relocated to Texas, but Aracely and Eli wanted to stay in Washington, which had become home. It was at this point that the family received help from Bellingham’s distinguished grassroots organization, the Opportunity Council, a private, nonprofit community-action agency that serves low-income families and the homeless. Since 1965, the Opportunity Council has focused on local solutions to problems in Whatcom and Island counties, building equitable communities through support for education and direct assistance. They currently help over 18,000 people every year.
It was from the family’s connection to the Opportunity Council that they learned about Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County. The Council helped them one winter pay their $100/month rent, which they couldn’t pay because they couldn’t work on the farm in winter. It was after their daughter was born that the family decided they needed to find something better.
The family moved, again with help from the Opportunity Council, to a hotel and better employment for Eli on a dairy farm in Everson, Washington. Doors started to open for more stable housing in Everson, where the family was able to get a proper apartment. In 2010, they moved to Bellingham, applied for the Habitat program, and Eli got an even better job as a painter in the shipyards at the Port
It’s been a good job, but without seniority, Eli was laid off frequently as work periodically slowed down. He was rehired when things picked up. This fluctuation made income unpredictable, and rent was a constant worry. Again, the family was forced to move to find cheaper housing, this time north to Ferndale. Over time, Eli has increased his seniority and layoffs are less frequent, though they still happen.
“When we applied to Habitat, we wanted to secure something for the family,” said Aracely. Eli and Aracely worked their sweat-equity hours in the Whatcom County Habitat Store when it was in Ferndale. Many of Aracely’s siblings didn’t find a path to security because they didn’t finish high school. “The ones who suffer the most are the kids. That’s why we decided to stay. I saw that in my family. We didn’t want that for our daughter. You always think more about your children that you do about yourself.”
The Santiago Reyes family’s new home is being built in Sudden Valley, a community of about 6,000 residents east of Bellingham, beside Lake Whatcom. Aracely is currently studying English at Whatcom Community College. She still has dreams. “If God gives us the opportunity,” she added, “someday I want to open a restaurant.”
Orozco Valencia Family
Magdalena “Maggie” Orozco came to the United States from Mexico when she was a young woman. She met the man who would become her husband, got married, and the couple settled in the Pasco, Washington, area. Sadly, the marriage didn’t last. Before Maggie and her husband were divorced they had three children. Today, Maggie is a single mother and the sole provider for her children. Approximately 12 million households in American are headed by a single parent. Of those, more than 75 percent are headed by single mothers.
Maggie relocated to the Bellingham area to be near her brother and his family, a move she made to feel less alone. Isolation and loneliness make life even harder for struggling single-parent families. Times of stress are when families need the social support of a wider network in order to stay healthy and engaged in life, especially for school-aged children. However, not long after Maggie arrived, her brother moved out of the area, leaving her alone again. Lacking a ready-made support network in Bellingham, Maggie assembled a “found” family, a small network of friends who have recognized how hard she works to keep her family together.
Still, it’s been hard for Maggie and her children. She works a minimum of two jobs at any one time, more jobs if she can find them, for income she badly needs to pay her bills and keep up with her rent. She has a “regular” job working in manufacturing, and she’s also taken part-time jobs at fast-food restaurants. Her days are filled.
All her children are involved in extra-curricular school and sports activities, something Maggie encourages so that they can experience greater stability and routine.
Even with the family’s tight schedule, and while working multiple jobs, Maggie and her daughter found time to work at the Habitat Store for their sweat-equity hours for their new home. They’ve now completed their hours and chosen their Telegraph home, part of Phase 1 of the development now underway.
“The joy I feel is overwhelming,” Maggie added. “I never thought I’d be able to get a home. I’m so grateful to Habitat because as a single mom having my own home was never going to be a possibility.”