Housing expenses are a major challenge for families in poverty
In his native Guatemala, Julio Ortiz was a school teacher. He walked for miles to work each day before he saved enough from his $10 per day salary to afford a modest motorcycle.
After immigrating to America in search of a better future for himself and his family, Julio found a job on one of Whatcom County’s berry farms. Now he makes more a couple more dollars in an hour than he once made in a day.
But even though he often works 60 hours a week in the growing season and more during the harvest, his paycheck doesn’t go very far. The family is more hopeful about their future here than they were in Guatemala. But they’re still struggling.
“We’re just living week to week,” he says. Julio works hard to put money away for the winter, when he can’t work as much, but it’s rarely enough.
Julio, his wife Juana, their four children, and Juana’s sister all share a small, three-bedroom home in Everson with Juana’s sister. It’s crowded, but they do what they need to get by.
For low-income families in Whatcom County, immigrants and non-immigrants alike, stories like that of the Ortiz family are common.
The average wage here is not enough to afford a 2-bedroom apartment at market rates 1 and an estimated sixty percent of low income households here spend more than half their income on housing.2
“Housing is considered affordable when you’re paying 30% or less of your income on rent or mortgage payments,” says Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County’s Executive Director, John Moon. “When families are earning very little and then spending most of their income on shelter, it’s very difficult to plan for tomorrow. They often can’t even plan for today. These families are often making hard choices between paying rent and paying other bills; putting food on the table; getting proper health care; buying clothes and school supplies for their children.”
At Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County, we work in partnership with hard-working low-income families to build simple homes. We build these homes with volunteer labor and sell them at cost, with a zero percent mortgage to families who qualify for our homeownership program.
For most partner families, a Habitat mortgage is less expensive than paying rent on an apartment. But a Habitat home does much more than just freeing families from the daily struggle to make ends meet.
Homeownership creates stability, financial self-reliance, community involvement, and wealth that can be passed on to future generations, helping families break the cycle of intergenerational poverty forever.
“Our goal is to build a home that’s affordable to someone who’s making minimum wage,” Moon explains.
It’s a big investment to make in a single family, but Habitat affiliates and their communities have built over half a million homes around the world for over three decades, because the model works. Of the 34 homes Habitat has built to date in Whatcom County, 92 % are still occupied by the original homeowner.
These families are contributing financially to their communities through property taxes, and investing in a better future for themselves and their kids.
Julio Ortiz, who is working with Habitat to build a home for his family (the Ortiz home will begin construction in Birch Bay next month) is grateful for the opportunity to better provide for his children’s future, and to help other Habitat partner families do the same.
Because Habitat families have mortgages that return to Habitat, every home that our community helps us build for a needy family, is paid forward to help build future homes.
Citations: Blog Post.
1. National Low-Income Housing Coalition Report- https://www.hfhwhatcom.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/County
2. Comprehensive-Plan-for-Housing-Jan-2010.pdfWhatcom Prosperity Project, 2012,
Citations: Social Media for the week of September 8-14.
1. Monday: Whatcom County poverty rates vs. Washington State average:
2. Tuesday: Number of very low income families in Whatcom County
3. Wednesday: Percentage of low-income families paying over 50% of their income on housing
4. Thursday: Affordability of housing based on average wage:
5. Saturday: Percentage of low income families who choose between paying for housing and purchasing other necessities:Whatcom Prosperity Project, 2012,