Month: September 2013


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.

Building a Future with Habitat

Meet the Singh-Kuar family

Sajan Singh and Resham Kuar
Sajan Singh and Resham Kuar at the construction site of their Habitat home

World Habitat DayResham Kuar and her husband Sajan Singh have lived in Bellingham since they immigrated to the United States from Fiji seven years ago.

“The economy in our country was so bad that if we worked whole days, we would get five or six bucks only,” explains Resham, as she and Sajan stand on what will soon be the front porch of their small, energy-efficient home, currently under construction in Bellingham. “We were not able to feed our children properly.”

The couple is of Indian descent. Their ancestors came to Fiji during the time of the British Empire, when many Indians were recruited to come to Fiji to work. Sajan, who is deaf, was a farmer in Fiji. The couple has three adult sons.

When Resham’s younger brother, David, immigrated to the U.S., he was able to sponsor Resham and Sajan’s immigration as well. The couple’s youngest son, P.J. came with them, but their other children remain in Fiji.

Since Sajan’s hearing difficulties have made it impossible for him to hold a job here, Resham supports the family working the closing shift at a local fast-food restaurant. Though the work is difficult, she is proud to do it, and she enjoys her job and her co-workers. In seven years, she has only missed a day or two of work when she was sent home sick. But Resham’s low wages are not enough to support even two people in a small apartment.

“I was just struggling to pay the rent, and all the other bills,” Resham says. Sometimes at the end of the month, the couple didn’t have enough to purchase basics they needed for themselves. Saving money for the future was not even an option.

Before they began construction on their Habitat home, Sajan put in several hundred hours of volunteer work in the Habitat Store. Despite the communication difficulties of being hearing impaired and having little English, he was able to work alongside store staff, cleaning and moving furniture. Now that the Singh-Kuar’s home is under construction, Sajan, their son P.J., and other members of their extended family regularly spend Saturday’s helping out on the job site.

Owning a home will change everything, Resham says. Growing up poor in Fiji, her parents had no wealth to pass on to her to help her build a future. Now, she and Sajan will have a home to pass on to their children. By having lower housing costs, they can find some financial breathing room to plan for their own retirement. And though her mortgage payments will return to Habitat to help build homes for other families, she hopes to be able to find a few dollars extra each month to donate to Habitat’s work.

“Because of them, I got this house,” she says. “I just can’t say too much, because my heart cries.”

Building Healthy Homes and Healthy Lives

Habitat Family Selection Criteria: Addressing the connection between health and housing.

From Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County Executive Director John Moon.

John Moon
John Moon

Without a safe, decent, affordable home it’s difficult access what so many of us take for granted.  Healthcare and education are usually the first to suffer if a family is living in substandard conditions.

Habitat for Humanity is keenly aware of the impacts of inadequate housing on health and this is reflected in our affiliate’s Family Selection Criteria and Qualifications.  Many of Habitat’s Selection Criteria focus in on unsafe living conditions such as failing electrical, roof, wall, foundation, plumbing or heating systems. We also look at unhealthy conditions that are a direct result of poverty such as overcrowding.  Some children have to share a bedroom with family members of opposite genders or in some cases don’t have a bedroom.  Habitat’s Qualification Criteria forgives medical debt because this is often a debt of poverty, and not of choice.  Otherwise, Habitat’s lending standards are similar to your bank’s standards.  We look for steady income history, faithful repayment of any consumer debt and sensible debt to income ratios.

One of the most important ways to improve both health and education is by keeping shelter affordable.  Typically Habitat limits the housing debt to 28% of gross income.  This helps assure that there are enough funds for proper nutrition, doctor’s visits and school supplies.World Habitat Day


Housing and health: Habitat partner families share their stories

World Habitat Day

Shop. Donate. Volunteer. Buy Coffee on October 7.

Habitat for Humanity doesn’t give houses away. We sell them at cost, with a 0% mortgage, to hard-working, responsible families in need.
That means that when you make a donation to Habitat, what you’re really doing is investing in our partner families. A $3 donation can allow Habitat to purchase one framing stud for a home. When a partner family buys that home, they will pay Habitat back your $3 investment in their mortgage.
When we get that monthly mortgage payment, we will use it to buy more framing studs, more nails, more siding, for more houses for more families.
So your donation to Habitat never goes away. In fact, it grows over time. It’s a hand up, not a hand out.
Next week: Find out how our volunteers’ hands and feet and hearts keep Habitat building.

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.
  2. Lisa Harker, Shelter:
  3. Overcrowding leads to disease transmission: National Institute of Health:

Citations – Social Media Posts:

Monday – Children, substandard housing and asthma: Lisa Harker, Shelter:

Tuesday – Health hazards of substandard housing: National Institute of Health:

Wednesday – Overcrowding leads to disease transmission: National Institute of Health:

Thursday – Poverty and inability to take sick leave: The Economic Policy Institute: The Need for Paid Sick Days:

Friday – Medical Debt and housing problems: The Access Project: How Medical Debt Undermines Housing Security.

More about Finances and Housing

Beginning the journey to homeownership with Habitat

Cody, Mary, and Dan VanDyken
Cody, Mary, and Dan VanDyken at their current home in Glacier.

Meet the VanDyken family

Dan VanDyken worked in the construction trades all his life. Until a few years ago.

He and his wife, Mary, and their young grandson Cody, rented a comfortable home in Bellingham. They enjoyed spending weekends at a rustic cabin on a piece of property they owned in Glacier.

But when Dan was diagnosed with severe Crohn’s Disease, and then suffered several strokes as a result, everything changed. Dan was no longer able to work.

“At first, the money I had saved up, I spent on medical bills,” he says.

Even though he eventually got some financial assistance, the bills were still overwhelming, and the home they were renting in Bellingham became unaffordable. They found refuge in the only place they could afford to: their tiny, uninsulated cabin on the Nooksack River.

A few hundred square feet doesn’t provide much room to live, especially not for a very active third-grader. After two and half years together in the cabin, everyone is looking forward to a little more space.

“It’s been hard,” Mary says. “Especially in the cold weather.”

Next year, they’ll finally have a well-insulated house with enough room for everyone. Habitat plans to build the Van Dyken’s new home in the spring of 2014 on the property they already own. The cabin will eventually be demolished.

The family has already the 500 hours of sweat equity required to purchase a Habitat home, much of it by volunteering at the Habitat Store. Soon the family will be at work alongside Habitat volunteers, building a safe, decent, affordable home with room for everyone; a place home that will remain affordable no matter what.

God’s Interest Rate

Habitat Core Value #3: Not to Profit from the Poor.

From Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County Executive Director John Moon.

John Moon
John Moon

homes for what it costs us to build them, and we finance them for our partner families at 0%. We call this “God’s Interest Rate.” It’s about human dignity and building community. Here are the numbers supporting Habitat’s biblical economics:

The most recent home that Habitat built in Bellingham was appraised at a modest $230,000. But the homeowners’ total repayment cost over 30 years will be just $133,891. Their monthly mortgage payment is $299.48 each month, a very affordable payment for Jaime, who works on a dairy farm, and his wife Leandra, a child-care worker, and their three young children.

A conventional buyer making a 20% down payment and getting market rate financing at 4.5% APR would pay $932.30 each month for the same small, simple, decent house. Over 30 years these owners would pay $401,629 on their mortgage.

What will Habitat homeowners like Jaime and Leandra do with $267,737.42 worth of labor costs, market inflation, profit margin, and loan interest that they are saving over 30 years? Several hundred extra dollars each month can be transformed into better nutrition and access to healthcare. These basics, in turn, support better access to education, and the ability to save – for childrens’ college, for retirement, for emergencies.

The power of God’s 0% interest rate elevates families out of poverty forever. A monthly Habitat mortgage payment not only adds to a homeowner’s estate but provides a sustainable revenue stream so that Habitat can continue building more homes each year.

World Habitat Day


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