Habitat home has women’s touch

House being built for, by family in Lincoln neighborhood is local chapter’s first to have mostly female crew

By Jacques Von Lunen, Columbian staff writer

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photoGerri Colburn is the project leader for the Lincoln site. She spent the last 16 years as a manager in the construction industry, but this is the first time she’s swinging a hammer.

(/The Columbian)

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Evergreen Habitat for Humanity

Address: 521 E. 33rd St., Vancouver.

Telephone: 360-737-1759.

Web: Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.

A house rising up in the Lincoln neighborhood is a first in several ways. Most importantly, it’s a first step toward stability for a young family.

The construction site at 1027 W. 39th St. is the first project by Habitat for Humanity in the neighborhood. It is the first “Women Build” project undertaken by the nonprofit’s Evergreen chapter. And while it’s the first home for the young couple scheduled to move in this summer, they also plan on it being their last.

Their future neighbors roundly welcomed the new project to the corner of Lincoln and 39th.

The 1,350-square-foot home is the first for Evergreen Habitat that’s designed, planned and constructed by women. However, when volunteers raised the house’s outer walls two weeks ago, there were a few men on site to lend professional expertise to that crucial stage of the process.

But female volunteer interest permitting, the house will be built mostly by women, said Brenda Tiefenthaler, a former board member of Evergreen Habitat. Nationwide, some 1,400 such projects exist. ON a recent build day, several of the women present had extensive experience in the construction industry, just not the hands-on kind.

Gerri Colburn, who is the project leader for the Lincoln home, spent the last 16 years in project management in the industry. But she pounded her first nails at the Habitat house a few weeks ago. She and other volunteers went through training at the Lowe’s on Southeast Mill Plain Boulevard, where they got an introduction to power tools and worked on a mock wall.

Anne Anderson is a structural engineer.

“It’s humbling when you make mistakes,” she said. “But I actually love it. I like how it all goes together.”

Empowering and exhausting

One woman raising walls in the cold drizzle that afternoon surely loved the experience more than her colleagues did. Before the facade even took shape, Desere Bastidas took a break from hammering to point out what she saw on the bare foundation.

“This is my kitchen and this is my dining room,” she said with a big smile.

Desere, her husband, Miguel, and their two children, Arianna, 4, and Aleeysa, 2, will leave behind their small apartment and move into the house this summer. They don’t get the house for free. The two adults each must put in at least 300 hours of labor into the project. And they will pay $400-$600 per month -- the exact amount is to be determined -- to Habitat after they move in. Those payments go toward the $75,000 that it will cost to build the house, said Melissa Carson, volunteer coordinator for Habitat.

But that’s a lot better than what the couple is facing now. The couple pays $900 for a crowded apartment that keeps breaking out in mold, no matter what she does, Desere said.

“We had to throw away some of the kids’ toys,” she said.

Both Desere and her husband work -- she has a part-time job -- but they don’t make enough for a regular house payment without Habitat’s help, Desere said. Luckily for them, their application was accepted and the couple started swinging hammers a few weeks ago.

“The first few nails were a little scary,” Desere said, wiping the rain off her safety glasses. “But it’s really empowering. Most people don’t even know what’s inside their walls.”

“I couldn’t make a fist for three days after we did the flooring,” Desere said. “It makes me appreciate the volunteers even more.”

She plans on volunteering for Habitat projects once her house is done.

“How could I not pay it forward?” Desere asked.

The house is expected to be finished in June. The couple’s children will have more space, their toys won’t get moldy and they’ll have a yard. But most importantly, they’ll have stability their parents never had. Desere and her husband moved around a lot as kids, she said.

“But they (her children) are going to go to one school district, then to college and they can live here the whole time,” she said, her voice trailing off dreamily.

“I have it all planned out for them,” she added with a laugh.

The neighbors were happy to hear about a stable family with kids moving in next door. The house that stood on the lot until last summer had become a blight on the corner, said Dave Howard, vice chairman of the Lincoln Neighborhood Association. It was a rental house that had tenants moving in and out frequently.

“This is definitely an upgrade,” Howard said.

The people living across the street from the Habitat home agreed with Howard’s assessment of the old property.

“Yeah, that needed to be torn down,” said Brandon Hanson.

As he stood in his doorway, the laughter of playing kids emerged from behind him. He was happy to see a family with young children move to the corner, Hanson said.

Several neighbors voiced their appreciation of the Habitat program and welcomed the first such project in their vicinity.

“I think it’s nice,” said a young woman living across the street, who only gave her first name, Angela. “I think it’s really neat that they’re helping families.”

The association plans to participate in the ceremony this summer to welcome the Bastidas to the Lincoln neighborhood, Howard said.

“It’s a tremendous project,” he said. “They are building community.”

Jacques Von Lunen: 360-735-4515; jacques.vonlunen@columbian.com;http://www.twitter.com/col_schools.