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Evergreen Habitat for Humanity celebrates McKibbin Commons completion

Evergreen Habitat for Humanity is moving to a community land trust model that will make its future homes permanently affordable.

“Habitat families, if they decide to sell, they’re still going to be able to build some wealth and appreciation in those homes, but those homes … will always be affordable for low-income families here in Clark County,” Executive Director Josh Townsley said Tuesday at the nonprofit’s annual fundraising breakfast.

The faith-based nonprofit, an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, builds homes that are sold to low-income families using zero-interest mortgages. A typical monthly mortgage payment is $650, including property taxes and homeowners’ insurance. Currently, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity homes have to remain affordable for 25 years. After that, they can be sold at market value to anyone regardless of income.

In an interview with The Columbian, Townsley said a year ago the board of directors approved moving to a land trust model and has since been working behind the scenes to implement it. This will impact every local Habitat house built in the future, including an estimated 22 to 29 homes that will be built on land recently acquired from churches.

Townsley said it’s similar to the model used by Portland-based Proud Ground, which sells homes to low-income households and keeps those homes affordable for perpetuity.

10 new homes

During Tuesday’s Raising the Roof benefit at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity celebrated nearing completion of its largest project to date, McKibbin Commons, a 10-home subdivision in the Father Blanchet Park neighborhood. It is named after John McKibbin, a former board member and community leader who died in a plane crash in 2016. The subdivision’s last two homes will be done in about two weeks.

“John was proud of this community. This community was a place where he wanted to make things better,” said Nancy McKibbin, his widow.

She wished he could have been at Tuesday’s celebration and knows he would have been proud of McKibbin Commons. As an educator, McKibbin said she’s worked with many students who were hungry and homeless.

“It was sad to hear those difficult stories. That is something we can change,” she said.

The families living in McKibbin Commons were brought on stage and the final two families moving into the subdivision were given keys to their new homes.

“I want you all — and all of the families out there that have been part of Habitat for Humanity — I just want you to live happy lives and long lives with your Habitat homes,” McKibbin said.

Brangmai Hpauyam was excited to get the keys to his family’s new three-bedroom house.

“I didn’t expect that,” Hpauyam told The Columbian.

His family relocated to Vancouver from Myanmar through the federal Refugee Resettlement Program, a selective program for people unable to return to their home countries due to persecution based on race, religion, nationality or membership to a particular social group. They learned about Habitat from Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

Every weekend for the last year Hpauyam has worked at the subdivision. Before purchasing their home, the family was required to put in 500 hours of sweat equity, including helping construct their home and other Habitat homes and taking homeowner education courses. Hpauyam, his wife, Merry, and their three children will move in after an inspection is completed and a dedication on Oct. 6. This will bring the total number of people housed in the subdivision to 44 — 29 children and 15 adults.

More land acquired

While wrapping up McKibbin Commons, Evergreen Habitat for Humanity recently purchased land from two Clark County churches. Townsley told the crowed gathered at the Hilton that just two days prior Habitat finalized its purchase of land from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in east Vancouver, where seven to nine homes can be built. On land bought from Battle Ground Community United Methodist Church, the nonprofit will be able to build 15 to 20 homes.

Townsley also touted a program launched two months ago that provides critical interior home repairs, such as building more accessible bathrooms, repairing rotten floors, fixing kitchen cabinets and repairing roofs.

For the last six years, Habitat has done critical exterior home repairs, and with a three-year, $150,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust began doing interior work. Since June, 25 households have requested help with interior home repairs.

“Keeping families in their homes is just as important as building new homes, so we can preserve healthy communities in Clark County,” Townsley said.

He said he’s amazed at Habitat’s humble beginnings. When the local affiliate started it built just one home every few years.

“We’ve grown over the years to become smarter, become larger, we’ve become more efficient and we’ve increased our ability to serve more families,” Townsley said.

Volunteers honored

Bruce Armstrong, who served on Evergreen Habitat for Humanity’s board for years, was recognized Tuesday for his work with the nonprofit. In a taped speech, he said he was “deeply humbled and honored and blessed to receive the Ray Johnson Award.” Eight years ago, shortly after retiring, Armstrong ran into John McKibbin who was having coffee with Townsley, then the newly-minted director.

“John thought it would be a good idea for me in my leisurely new life to get involved in Habitat,” Armstrong said.

That brief conversation led to years of volunteering with Habitat.

Doug Corso, who has volunteered more than 2,000 hours with Habitat, was named its volunteer of the year. Board President Terry Eccles-Pettet said Corso was dedicated to quality, safety and was even known to mow lawns before home dedications.

Corso said while working on these last two homes he often saw the subdivision’s youngest residents getting on the school bus in the morning.

“But the best part is in the afternoons when they’re coming home, parents are there to meet them,” he said. “Twenty minutes later, there is a basketball game going on down at the corner. It is just so rewarding to see that we’ve not just built 10 homes, but we’ve built a neighborhood.”


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