Habitat for Humanity
By Lindsay Budzier
Randy Scott fidgets in the front seat of his gray Chevy Silverado 4x4; he underwent his sixth lower back surgery in late January and has trouble getting comfortable. Scott, 46, has bright blue eyes and a kind, timid smile. A single father, Scott is raising his two teenage sons Chris, 16, and Cory, 13, while also trying to cope with his medical and attorney bills and finish a two-year degree in surveying and mapping at Bellingham Technical College. He has been unable to work due to multiple back and shoulder injuries he sustained on the job. Last summer, Scott received some good news: he was accepted into the Habitat for Humanity program. He could own his own home.
"It's a really good thing," Scott says. "For someone like me who has had to deal with injuries, fighting for custody of my kids, I never thought I would be able to buy my own house. I just can't afford it. Habitat made that dream come true."
Scott's house is the 22nd Habitat house in Whatcom County. Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit, faith-based organization that began operating in Whatcom County in 1989. Scott's is the first two-story house and the first duplex built by Whatcom Habitat, says Kirstin Hawkins, the program's Americorp-VISTA volunteer development coordinator.
Construction on the Sumas duplex began in August 2006 and will be completed in the next few months if Habitat can get the help they need, Hawkins says. Right now the program is waiting for a plumber to volunteer before they can continue with construction.
"We really do rely on volunteer work," Hawkins says. "We function off of them. They donate time, money, building supplies and their skills."
Habitat also receives donations of building supplies from local businesses. Westside Building Supply in Lynden provides lumber for every house, Hawkins says.
Habitat houses generally take four to six months to complete, Hawkins says, but time varies depending on availability of supplies and manpower. Scott's duplex is unique because it is the first time Habitat continued building through the winter, Hawkins says, which presented complications.
Construction manager Mike Hess says Habitat encountered the wettest November on record. Snow fell before the roof was finished, so the house had to be dried out. The house plan is more complicated than the plans Habitat used in the past, Hess says.
Hess has worked as the construction manager for Habitat since fall of 2005. He worked as a furniture craftsman for 11 years before working with Habitat, but he wanted to do something that would be more fulfilling.
"I thought, 'You know what? I'm earning a good living.' " Hess says, "I was comfortable, but how important is that really? I went searching for [something]."
Scott says he heard about Habitat from his sister who works with the Habitat for Humanity division in Everett. Habitat originally offered Scott a house on land acquired in Deming, but Scott did not want to uproot his sons from their schools, so they waited for the development in Sumas.
Scott and his family will share the duplex with another Habitat family, Maria and Roberto Gonzalez and their three children, Hawkins says. Each family selected completes a lengthy application process and is expected to also contribute to the house. To be eligible for a Habitat house, a family must prove Whatcom County residency for at least one year, and fall between 25 and 50 percent of Bellingham's median income, Hawkins says. In Whatcom County the monthly income for a family of three falls between $1,085 and $2,171 to qualify for the program. Habitat must also deem the family's current living situation as substandard or inadequate. Families must pay part of the no-interest mortgage and work at least 500 hours on the house -- or "sweat equity," Hawkins says.
"Sweat equity is about having ownership in their own house," Hawkins says, "It's about having pride."
Sweat equity hours do not have to be completed solely by the new owners, Hawkins says. Hours can be completed by friends or extended family members. Scott says he relies on his teenage sons and his two other adult children and their families for help because he cannot perform the physical labor.
"I really appreciate my sons," Scott says, "I can't get out there to work so a lot of that falls on them. They get out there and help."
Cory Scott, an eighth grader at Nooksack, says he spends most Saturdays working on the house. He's anxious to move into the house with his dad and brother and have his own room, he says.
"I get the smallest room because I am the youngest," Cory says, "But I don't have to share."
The Scott-Gonzalez duplex sits on a small street next to two other homes Habitat built last year during a building blitz when dozens of volunteers came together in a massive effort to complete a house in only a few days, Habitat's Americorp-VISTA leader Julie Hill says. Volunteer teams start building homes by purchasing the land, digging, laying foundation and framing the walls, Hill says. Next comes the roof, siding, utilities and dry wall. Soon the house is ready for the last finishing touches: paint, carpeting and appliances.
"A lot of homeowners come in saying, 'I can't believe this is ours, I can't believe I own this.' " Hill says.
Habitat helps confront poverty in a practical way, Hill says. Once people own their own home, they feel responsibility for something that they helped create and maintain.
"It's a hand up, not a hand out," Hawkins says. "It's a real way to step out of poverty and stay in the community, make connections to the community. There is so much pride in ownership."