At Evergreen Habitat for Humanity’s Johnson Village subdivision in east Vancouver, windows, roofs, trusses and walls are taking the shape of nine homes for low-income families.
The homes, located off 162nd Avenue and 34th Street beside the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, are kept permanently affordable through Habitat’s community land trust, enabling families to build equity while adding to the city’s limited affordable housing stock.
But as materials have gotten more pricey over the past two years, so have Johnson Village’s construction costs.
“Lumber just kind of soared,” said Heather Cochrun, Evergreen Habitat community outreach manager. “Subcontractors now are quite a bit more, especially as demand has really increased in the community.”
To cover increased construction prices, the Washington State Department of Commerce granted the organization an additional $468,000, supplementing the project’s $2.77 million development cost.
“It’s really helpful for us as we’re pushing hard to finish the project,” Cochrun said. “We’re just really excited to get the families in.”
The funding is part of the department’s $24.2 million investment to support homeownership opportunities throughout the state. Johnson Village is one of three existing projects and 21 new proposals that received money from the department, provided through Washington’s Housing Trust Fund.
Funding is administered by the Department of Commerce’s new homeownership unit, formed as part of the state’s efforts to improve homeownership opportunities for Black, Indigenous and people of color. The projects will create nearly 250 new homeownership opportunities by building homes and expanding down payment assistance.
“Homeownership is out of reach for so many people because of flat wages, because of the pandemic, because of a variety of things, especially for communities of color,” said Ann Campbell, managing director of the homeownership unit. “Any additions that can be made, whether that is through the Commerce Housing Trust Fund program or through other public and private organizations, will benefit our communities.”
This “gap” funding covering increased costs aims to finish existing projects before awarding funds for new projects, according to Campbell.
She thinks the $24.2 million investment will go a long way, but she noted the program received more than double that amount in demand. “So it’s not nearly enough to fill the need.”
Though funding for future years isn’t guaranteed, Campbell is hopeful the state’s homeownership investments will continue.
“Every time you make somebody a homeowner, they are vacating a rental spot … which then makes that available for other families,” she said. “It allows people to move along the housing spectrum.”
Meanwhile, Johnson Village’s future homeowners and volunteers are working hard to build houses from the ground up. Habitat for Humanity requires homeowners to complete hours of “sweat equity” — 250 hours for a one-adult household and 500 for a two-adult household — as part of the program’s requirements.
Cochrun hopes some families will be moving in by the end of the summer.
“We’ve been building out there three days a week with about 15 volunteers a day, including homeowners,” she said. “It’s never glorious when you start the exterior construction process in the winter. There’s never a dull moment out there.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.