Habitat for Humanity builds houses, changes lives

Posted on Nov 22 2013 - 12:54pm by Jesse Major, Photo Editor

Lutes volunteer at local construction project

When a struggling mother of two got a phone call at work one day, it left her overwhelmed and in tears.

Melissa Brown explained to her boss, after getting funny looks, that Habitat for Humanity was making her a homeowner for the first time in her life.

“I started bawling at my desk,” Brown said. “It’s overwhelming. It’s exciting.”

Brown and her family will move into a new community built by Habitat for Humanity in The Woods at Golden Given, a development near 104 Street and Golden Given Road in Parkland, Wash.

Jason Gauthier, director of volunteer services for Habitat for Humanity, said “there’s a common misconception that we just give away our homes. Instead, it’s much more of a partnership. Habitat partners with families in need to build and own “simple, decent and affordable homes,” Gauthier said.

For Brown, the application process was simple. Brown’s neighbor saw the construction at The Woods and told her to try it. She then went online, printed out the application and took it to the Habitat office.

“I was like ‘the worst they could say is no.’ And they said yes,” Brown said.

The process takes 2-4 months. Once a family is approved, it shouldn’t take more than a year for them to move into their new home.

Affordable Housing

Habitat works with families that make 30-50 percent of the area’s
median income. For a family of four, this could be between $21,000 and $35,000 a year.

“If a family of four, making less than $30,000 a year, goes to a bank and asks for a $160,000 mortgage to buy their own house, there’s probably not a great chance that’s going to happen,” Gauthier said. Instead of paying interest on a mortgage, the families will pay 29 percent of their monthly income until the 0 percent mortgage from Habitat is fully paid.

In exchange, the soon-to-be homeowners at The Woods will contribute 500 hours of labor building their houses with the help of volunteers.

“Each family [helps] build their own home, their neighbors’ homes and the homes in their community,” Gauthier said.

The development will have 30 homes surrounding a central community house, where the community will hold meetings and spend time together.

“I know there’s a lot of different programs that they want to build in with tutoring for the kids, and I want to help build that community up — not only using the services, but putting back in, ‘cause that’s huge,” Brown said.

Gauthier said the unique part of The Woods is that every family will know each other.

“Our families aren’t moving next to strangers, they’re moving next to friends that they’ve had for the last year as they’re going through this process,” Gauthier said.

PLU Involvement

Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity, AmeriCorps, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, and Pacific Lutheran University are helping the families build their new homes.

Joel Zylstra, director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service at PLU, learned about Habitat for Humanity through a friend and realized The Woods was a perfect project for CCES.

“Quickly, I learned that their model was unique. I was intrigued by the idea of building a community rather than a house,” Zylstra said. “The icing on the cake was when I learned they were building a 30-home development here in Parkland.”

Zylstra said it was easy to get students to volunteer.

About 250 students have gone through the orientation with Habitat for Humanity, a prerequisite to actually volunteering. About
170 students actually participated with the build.

The project also helps students get out of the “Lutedome” and into the community.

“So many students are on campus or living right next to campus — they don’t interact with the community of Parkland, the community they spend 4 or 5 years in,” Gauthier said.

Through the build at The Woods, students get off campus, meet the families that will live there and learn what’s in the community.

“You begin breaking down perceptions of what Parkland is,” Zylstra said. “We’re trying to get students to see Parkland in a different way and to appreciate it for what it is.”

PLU students also helped donate $10,000 to the project. The money came from donations, fundraisers, an auction and ASPLU.

“It’s been neat to see a lot of different groups and players contribute to this project in different ways,” Zylstra said.

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans also donated $70,000 to the build.

PLU alum and Thrivent Financial consultant Brendon Rorem said “the type of people that go to PLU tend to be the kind that care about others. It doesn’t surprise me that Lute students and alumni are out contributing.”

Brown said it was “awesome” to work with the volunteers. “Everybody is so upbeat and helpful,” she said.

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