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News / Clark County News

Habitat for Humanity completes 2 more homes in Johnson Village in east Vancouver

Once it's done, affordable housing community will have 9 homes for low-income families

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 25, 2024, 6:05am
9 Photos
Completed homes sit at Evergreen Habitat for Humanity&rsquo;s Johnson Village neighborhood in east Vancouver.
Completed homes sit at Evergreen Habitat for Humanity’s Johnson Village neighborhood in east Vancouver. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Karla Alvarado Martinez moved to Vancouver in 2018, she didn’t think homeownership was possible. Six years later, she was handed the keys to her new home at Johnson Village, an affordable housing community established by Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.

“I don’t have any words to describe this feeling. This is one big dream for my family. Habitat has now become our family,” Martinez said.

On Sunday, the organization celebrated the completion of two more homes within the subdivision located off Northeast 162nd Avenue and 34th Street in east Vancouver. At the ceremony, community members and volunteers welcomed the new homeowners to the neighborhood and officially handed over the keys. Martinez, her two daughters, and a second family will move into their new homes at the end of May.

Once completed this summer, Johnson Village will have nine affordable homes for low-income families.

Martinez and the other families were first selected to be Habitat owners two years ago when construction on the community began. Martinez, who initially had little hope of being accepted, cried when she received the news in 2022.

Martinez moved from Nicaragua to Vancouver to escape social protests in her home country. She is now a special education paraeducator at Endeavour Elementary School and wants to work to find more opportunities to provide for her daughters, Clarissa and Maria Elsa.

“We waited for two years to get our house, and my family and I are excited. Everyone has their own room,” Martinez said. “Habitat for Humanity has created a big opportunity. They have supported us 100 percent.”

Creating homes, community

Evergreen Habitat for Humanity first broke ground on the subdivision in late 2022. The nine families were selected that same year based on a number of factors, including need and income, Community Outreach Manager Heather Cochrun said.

The organization primarily serves families who make between 30 and 50 percent of the Clark County median income. (The median income for a family of four in fiscal year 2023 was $83,900, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.)

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“We really looked at housing need as sort of the biggest factor in our decision,” Cochrun said. “That’s really what it’s all about at Habitat: bringing people together from all experiences to contribute to something bigger.”

Johnson Village is the organization’s first community land trust, owned by the Habitat Home Trust, meaning homeowners lease the land rather than owning it.

Homeowners will still own their homes, but Habitat will continue to own the land that the homes are on through the trust. Homeowners will be able to build equity over time and can still sell their home if they decide to move, Cochrun explained.

If a family decides to leave, Habitat for Humanity will sell the home to another low-income family, keeping the community affordable.

A unique aspect of Johnson Village is the homes are built from the ground up by volunteers and future Habitat homeowners themselves, said Leah Middleton, marketing and development coordinator.

Homeowners choose the finishing touches, including the countertops and paint colors. Of the six completed homes so far, three are sky blue with a dark contrasting trim. Each house has a shed in the backyard and a spacious front porch.

Going forward, Habitat wants to expand its affordable housing efforts and work toward building more homes to serve the community, Cochrun said.

Johnson Village is named after two founding members of Evergreen Habitat for Humanity, Ray and Harriet Johnson. In the 1990s, the pair were part of a group of volunteers who founded the housing ministry in Clark County.

“On Sunday, I got to witness someone who felt like this was a dream that was out of reach. The work and the effort she put in, along with Evergreen Habitat, was able to make that possible,” Middleton said of Martinez. “Not only is that impacting her present life, but that’s also going to have a generational impact. Now, she has that safety of a home that is going to trickle down to younger generations.”

Community Funded Journalism logo

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.