The longtime affordable housing group Habitat for Humanity celebrated a local milestone last week, even as it mourned the recent death of one of its best-known champions.
Let’s start with the sad news. The passing of former first lady Rosalynn Carter on Nov. 19 triggered an outpouring of affection and remembrance of a full life well-lived. Mrs. Carter and her husband, Jimmy, are perhaps the best-known names behind the Habitat organization, which was incorporated in Georgia in 1976. Here is its mission statement: “Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities and hope.”
Although it is faith-based, it prohibits proselytizing within its organization or its vendors. It operates in every state and 70 countries, and by its count has helped more than 42 million people improve their housing. The Carters became involved after his presidency ended in 1981, and since 1984 have sponsored an annual Carter Work Project, beginning with an apartment house renovation in New York City. This year’s project was in Charlotte, N.C.
The local chapter, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, has been improving the lives and housing for Clark County families since 1991.
Recently Evergreen celebrated completion of the first three homes in its new Johnson Village subdivision, located off Northeast 162nd Avenue and Northeast 34th Street in east Vancouver. When completed, perhaps as soon as next year, it will have nine homes. The subdivision is named for Ray and Harriet Johnson, who helped organize Evergreen.
The houses are built to local quality standards, but several things keep the price affordable for the buyers, who must apply to the program and go through a substantial screening process before being accepted. Buyers need to be first-time homeowners, have decent credit, meet income eligibility requirements and demonstrate why they need housing.
The homes are modest in size, on smaller lots. Construction relies on a lot of donated labor, usually including sweat equity from the soon-to-be homeowners. And there are certain mortgage and financial benefits not available to the average homebuyer, including a no-interest mortgage, to keep the costs down.
“Our mission is to create a safe and stable support for families to thrive not only for this generation but also for generations to come,” explained Leah Middleton, marketing and development coordinator for Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.
As a significant part of its fundraising, Evergreen runs the Clark County Habitat for Humanity Store at 10811 S.E. Second St. It sells new and used furniture, home decor, appliances, building materials and more to the public at discounted prices. Also at the store, an advanced recycling center with volunteer support sorts all metals, plastics and wood that would otherwise go to the landfill.
Habitat for Humanity is, of course, only one small piece of the solution to providing adequate housing for everyone in our community. For example, Habitat’s clients are rarely homeless. And when a family is selected to participate, it typically takes many months for the home to be built and the homeowner to get the keys.
It will take many different programs to fix — or even to greatly reduce — the housing affordability crisis that grips Vancouver and most other cities on the West Coast. But Habitat for Humanity is doing its part in our community.