Bainbridge costs make charity house-building tough

Habitat for Humanity, perhaps one of our society’s more effectual programs created to help people help themselves, has had very little success on Bainbridge Island. In recent years it has turned donated land into two houses built in the Fort Ward area and another at Hidden Cove, but the island’s skyrocketing land values have made it difficult for the Kitsap County nonprofit to afford the type of ambitious projects it prefers.

Habitat plans to build 14 houses in Kitsap County this year; 11 are in process in East Bremerton and three are scheduled for Suquamish. The first Suquamish home to be built will be bought by a single mother who now lives and works on Bainbridge Island. After fleeing a bad marriage, she and her son lived for several months in a local church shelter before moving into transitional housing provided by the island’s Housing Resources Board. They hope to be in their new home by the end of the year.

How does this work? To qualify, a person must be living in substandard housing and earn between 30 and 60 percent of the county’s median income. The applicant must demonstrate the ability to pay the mortgage (average of $450 per month for a $90,000 sale price), make a $1,000 down payment and produce 500 hours of sweat equity while the house is being built. The builders? They are volunteers, usually people who live near the new home’s location.

The success of such an undertaking depends on donors, either those who provide building materials and land, or both. Josh Doughtery, resource manager for Habitat for Humanity’s Bremerton office, says the organization has volunteer coordinators who contact businesses, churches and community leaders to provide assistance. Habitat is a well-oiled machine in many ways, especially when reaching out to the community for help since its need for outside assistance to meet its goals is constant.

Habitat’s marketing efforts, for example, have kicked into high gear as the deadline nears to begin construction on the three Suquamish homes: $30,000 is needed by June 30 in order to meet it. Dougherty said the deadline will be met because people believe in the program’s community value, but it’s never easy. Still, a mother and her son are depending on them.

On Bainbridge Island, where land is so valuable, complexities make it even more difficult.

Doughtery said Habitat has many positive supporters on the island, but it’s difficult to obtain large hunks of land on which to build several homes.

“We look for land to build multiple houses because that’s cheaper than building one house at a time on one lot,” he says. “But the island’s zoning density of one house per half-acre makes it tough for us. Off-island we can build two houses for every one house on the island.”

In order to obtain land on the island, Habitat hopes to form a partnership in the future with the Housing Resources Board, which also asks community members to donate land that can be turned into affordable housing. Both have difficult goals to attain because of the economy’s downturn and the housing dynamics that exist on the island, but they believe in the importance of helping people during times of crisis and having an economically diverse community.

If you’ve ever helped build a home for a person in need, then been on the receiving end of the warm smiles and embraces of the new homeowner, you know the importance of investing in your community in an active manner. There’s no better feeling. Do it again.

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