Archive for Affordable Housing

Progress in Sumas

Sumas - front yard with signWe’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.

Making Home Affordable

BPC logo copyHere at Habitat, we’re as committed to long-term housing affordability as we are to keeping purchase costs down. That’s why we prioritize energy efficiency. To help reduce the family’s energy bills, we received help and guidance from The Opportunity Council. “They demonstrated for us how to make the house more energy efficient,” Stromdahl said. Their Building Performance Center came out and tested the house for air leakage then advised us based on the results of those tests, even going so far as to loan us a cellulose insulation blower – a tool that would cost us approximately $50 per day (plus a $250 deposit) to rent. We couldn’t be more grateful.

Sumas - yard volunteersHelp Out at Sumas

With a goal of welcoming the Gutierrez family into their new home as soon as possible, we could use all the help we can get. If you’re interested in joining a work party, call (360) 715-9170 or email volunteer@nullhfhwhatcom.org to get details and let us know your availability.

What Is Sweat Equity?

Springfield, Missouri / 20 MBHere 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 USWI-13-01588-JA.jpgwouldn’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.

 

Western Students to Bike Across U.S. for Affordable Housing

Kendyl & Brooks (far left, right) with Mary & Dan VanDyken

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

The route Kendyl & Brooks will ride this summer

Ride Along in Spirit

Dustin-Tran-3-300x225

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!

 

Another Roof Raised

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!

IMG_0267Over 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, IMG_0232Watters 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.

IMG_0258Thank You

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!

Finally Home

Leandra and Guadalupe Huante

Leandra Huante and her daughter Guadalupe in the Huante’s new Habitat home

The Huante family used to live in a dilapidated two-bedroom house without insulation. The home was conveniently near the farm where husband Jaime Huante works, and for a couple working three jobs between them and struggling to get by, it was the best shelter they could afford.

Winters were so cold that the couple didn’t feel safe letting their children sleep in their frigid north-facing bedroom, so the whole family crowded into Jaime and his wife Leandra’s room during the coldest months of the year.

When Leandra, a Whatcom County native, learned about Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County’s homeownership program, she convinced her husband that they apply. They figured it was a long shot. But they had nothing to lose.

When they were accepted into the program, the family dug into their 500 hour sweat equity requirement and did not look back. Leandra worked at the Habitat Store in between her two part time jobs and caring for her children. After all that, she still found time to cook pots of homemade soup for delighted construction volunteers working on her home.

Jaime joined the construction crew almost every Saturday, after having risen at 3 a.m. to milk cows. After building all day, he returned to the farm for another shift of milking.

This summer, the Huante family moved into Habitat Whatcom’s first ultra-energy efficient “passive” style house. Even before their first winter, Leandra says the family has noticed a dramatic decrease in their utility bills.

The children have their own rooms (though sisters Alejandra and Guadalupe are close and prefer to room together) and a place they are proud to invite friends over to play, and instead of a remote, rural road with fast traffic and no sidewalk, they live on a quiet dead-end street, near other families with young children. There is a park at the end of the street, and the Interurban Trail is just over their back fence.

“We love to ride our bikes together,” Leandra says. “We go all over town.”

Five-year-old Guadalupe just started Kindergarten, and is proud to show visitors her new backpack and school supplies. Leandra hopes her children can go to college one day. With all the advantages of a safe, healthy, stable home, and the hundreds of dollars each month that the family is saving on housing and utility bills, seeing her children graduate from college is now a realistic dream.

When asked what the biggest difference is between their new home and the old one, Leandra laughs and looks skyward helplessly, as if she doesn’t know where to begin. Before her mother can start to speak, Guadalupe interrupts with her opinion. “We’re safe,” she says.

“Yes,” Leandra agrees, smiling at her daughter. “We’re safe.”

A Place to Study, Learn and Grow: The Connection Between Housing and Education

 

World Habitat DayJulio Ortiz was a teacher in Guatamala before he immigrated to the U.S. to provide a better life for his family. So he means what he says when he talks about the importance of a good education for his children.

The older two of his four children are in elementary school, and the first thing he says about Rodrigo and Yosmeri is “They’re good students.”

Julio’s wife Juana is a student as well. She’s currently working on improving her English skills through Whatcom Community College’s ESL program. With a baby and a toddler to care for, she has to stay home. But if she is to work at some point in the future, English is key to getting a decent job, so Julio is supportive of Juana’s decision to study. “(Studying English) is the first thing I did when I got here,” he says.

Julio would like to take classes himself to further improve his English, and perhaps pursue the credentials he would need to resume his career as a teacher here. But since he now works 60 hours a week on a berry farm for little more than minimum wage, he has neither the time nor the money to think about his own education. Yet.

In the Habitat home that Julio will soon begin helping to build in Birch Bay for his family, he will have significantly lower monthly housing costs – perhaps low enough that he can afford to think about pursuing his dream of more education and a better career.

Regardless of what plans Julio makes for himself in the future, his children will benefit from finally having adequate room to play and study. The relationship between housing and childrens’ educational success is well-documented. Better health and nutrition, more disposable income for school supplies and extra-curricular activities, a stable environment that allows kids to stay in the same school district, are benefits of safe, decent, affordable housing that can help students succeed in school. And when parents own their home, it gives their kids even more of an edge. Children of homeowners are 25%1 more likely to graduate high school, and 116%2 more likely to finish college than their peers in rental housing.

For Julio Ortiz, those are encouraging statistics.

Blog Post Statistics:

1 & 2: Habitat for Humanity of San Antonio/Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, April 2003. http://www.habitatsa.org/about/benefits.aspx

The challenges of keeping a family healthy in unhealthy housing

leaky windowWorld Habitat Day

As an agricultural worker, Julio Ortiz makes barely enough to support his family. And he only gets paid for the days he works. A few stormy days, or a case of the flu could be a financial disaster. His job doesn’t offer health insurance, and he can’t afford it on his own. If Julio or his wife Juana fall ill, “we get nothing,” he says.

Dan VanDyken is another Habitat partner. He has lived through the type of nightmare that Julio and Juana Ortiz try not to think about. Dan had a long career as a construction tradesman, but when he was diagnosed with advanced Crohn’s Disease and suffered several strokes, he was left unable to work, with a mountain of medical bills to pay. No longer able to make rent, he and his wife and grandson were forced to move into a cabin in Glacier.

The VanDykens’ story is not uncommon for low-income Americans. A study by The Access Project, a program of Third Sector New England affiliated with the Schneider Institute for Health Policy at Brandeis University, found that more than a quarter of families with significant medical debt experienced resulting financial problems that made it difficult to find and/or maintain adequate housing for their families.1

And for such families, housing problems only make health problems worse. Now that the VanDykens are wedged into a few hundred square feet of living space, if one family member gets sick, the bug will inevitably and quickly spread.

Because of his Crohn’s, “Dan has no immune system,” his wife Mary says. And Dan isn’t the only family member for whom a common cold can be a major problem: The couple’s grandson, Cody, a third-grader, has asthma.

Studies show that children living in inadequate housing are 10 times more likely than children in good housing to develop asthma and other respiratory problems.2 And research also supports what the VanDykens already know: when people are in crowded conditions they get sick more often. 3

Counting his sister-in-law, who shares their home, Julio Ortiz has a family of seven in his three-bedroom rental house. His wife, Juana, confirms that the any colds the children bring home from school tend to circulate quickly through the house.

In their future Habitat homes, both the VanDykens and the Ortiz family will have a little more space and a better chance to stay healthy.

Julio will go from paying $1,000 per month in rent to writing a mortgage check of just a few hundred dollars. With what he’ll soon have left over from his paycheck, he can afford to consider things that once seemed out of reach: like taking a day off and seeing a doctor when he gets sick.

Citations – Blog Post:

  1.  The Access Project: How Medical Debt Undermines Housing Security. http://www.accessproject.org/adobe/home_sick.pdf
  2. Lisa Harker, Shelter: http://england.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/policy_and_research/policy_library/policy_library_folder/chance_of_a_lifetime_-_the_impact_of_bad_housing_on_childrens_lives
  3. Overcrowding leads to disease transmission: National Institute of Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447157/

Citations – Social Media Posts:

Monday – Children, substandard housing and asthma: Lisa Harker, Shelter: http://england.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/policy_and_research/policy_library/policy_library_folder/chance_of_a_lifetime_-_the_impact_of_bad_housing_on_childrens_lives

Tuesday – Health hazards of substandard housing: National Institute of Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447157/

Wednesday – Overcrowding leads to disease transmission: National Institute of Health: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1447157/

Thursday – Poverty and inability to take sick leave: The Economic Policy Institute: The Need for Paid Sick Days: http://www.epi.org/publication/the_need_for_paid_sick_days/

Friday – Medical Debt and housing problems: The Access Project: How Medical Debt Undermines Housing Security. http://www.accessproject.org/adobe/home_sick.pdf