Habitat for Humanity (HFH) works internationally to raise families out of poverty through the act of building and repairing homes for those in need.
In the Moses Lake area, HFH of Greater Moses Lake has constructed 14 homes over the years, each for a family looking to take the next step to a better life. However, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench into the build timeline, and now — almost three full years since their last project — HFH is ready to build again with support from organizations like Peoples Bank.
Peoples Bank — a supporter of Habitat For Humanity since its Loan Production Office opened last year in Moses Lake — has two employees who serve on the local HFH board of directors.
HFH’s annual Festival of Trees fundraiser, held earlier this month, brought food, fun, holiday spirit, and the necessary funding for Habitat’s next new home build, with Peoples Bank serving as the event’s platinum sponsor.
Brigid Vargas, Habitat’s affiliate coordinator in Moses Lake, says the festival is the organization’s primary fundraiser and the only way to raise funds for the upcoming home build.
“It’s not just necessary, it’s vital,” Vargas says. “It’s the only way we get to do what we do.”
Tickets to the festival sold out, Vargas adds, marking the first time the event has reached full capacity.
Making a Home
The upcoming build project will be a single-family residence for a local family in need.
While some people are under the impression these families are simply given homes with no strings attached, that’s not at all how the process works.
Griselda Lopez, a commercial banking officer at the Peoples Bank Loan Production Office in Moses Lake and Habitat board president, echoes the oft-quoted sentiment that Habitat homes are a hand up, not a handout.
“I believe the way we do things creates a sense of empowerment and independence while clearly sending the message that families are not in it alone,” she says. “It’s a very worthy cause that can help shift a family’s stability and improve the trajectory of all the members’ lives.”
In selecting prospective families, Habitat works on a series of qualifying guidelines. They determine the legitimacy and extent of a family’s needs, citizenship status, and their income levels.
Families must be able to pay back the cost of the home with an affordable 0% mortgage over 20 to 30 years. Those mortgage payments are then cycled back into the community to build additional Habitat homes.
Credit checks are conducted to ensure a family makes enough to make monthly payments, and although Vargas says good credit isn’t essential, an excessive debt-to-income ratio can be grounds for disqualification.
In partnering with Habitat, a family must also be willing to invest their labor — also called “sweat equity” — through 400 hours of various Habitat activities. This can be working on the building of their own home, another home in the ownership program, volunteer work projects, or fundraising help.
Families also earn hours by completing financial classes that provide them the homeownership tools they’ll need to have once they move in. For those with children, Vargas says they’ve even awarded a volunteer hour for every ‘A’ paper earned at school.
“We truly try to incorporate the whole family so that they can feel a part of the project,” she says. “Until the day they get the keys, they’re a part of the process.”
Searching for the Future
Each home takes approximately six to twelve months to build, and ground-breaking begins as soon as a family is chosen.
Vargas says the upcoming build still needs a family, as a previously chosen family fell through.
Construction is provided by contractors, who work at a discount to ensure everything is completed professionally. Student tradespersons at Job Corps volunteer their time under the watchful eye of teachers to gain valuable hands-on experience before entering the workforce.
Vargas says the organization is incredibly grateful for the community help that makes it all possible.
“It’s hard to lift a table with one hand, but when you have ten hands, all of a sudden it becomes super light,” she says. “Every hand — every business and community member — who pours their effort into us is really that hand to help lift what feels impossible for one.”
Previous homeowners, she adds, have become a real part of their communities, sharing their stories and encouraging others to help.
“Giving people a house is not just four walls,” Vargas says. “It’s giving them a home along with the security and confidence to do what they couldn’t do before.”