Housing and Education
A decent home provides kids with more than shelter. It’s gives them a place to succeed.
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
Julio 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