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Habitat-Spokane plans move, builds relationships among neighbors

 

Michelle Girardot guides Habitat-Spokane through changes.

Habitat for Humanity Spokane is moving from both its administrative offices at 732 N. Napa and the Habitat Store at 3808 N. Sullivan to 1805 E. Trent, four blocks from the offices.

From March 1 to 26, there is a closeout sale at the store.  It will be closed and moved in April and May. There will be a grand opening in June.

The new location moves the Habitat Store back into the core of Spokane.

“It will increase the store’s accessibility and visibility to increase donations and customers,” said Michelle Girardot, who became CEO of Habitat-Spokane in July, when her predecessor Michone Preston became the outreach director for Habitat for Humanity of Washington State, which serves more than 30 state affiliates. There is a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in nearly every county in the state.

Most of the 41,000 square-foot building, which Habitat purchased in September for $1.3 million, will be for the retail store.  They are doing $190,000 in improvements.

The funds came from individual donations and partnership with Habitat of Washington’s loan fund pilot program. 

Habitat-Spokane’s first office was at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.  It started in 1987 after national Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller spoke at Whitworth University.  Since completing its first home in 1988, Habitat has provided 268 homes in Spokane County, including both new construction and rehabs.

“We have funded 40 Habitat homes through proceeds of the Habitat Store since 2000,” Michelle said.

The store provides new and used building materials such as tile, lumber, paint, patio furniture and garden supplies.  Businesses, industries and individuals donate materials.  The store does free pickups and drop offs.

“We pick up a load of building materials after a construction job, so it doesn’t go to the landfill,” she said.  “People doing spring cleaning and having estate sales donate furniture”

After graduating from Holy Names University in Oakland in social justice and performance in 2009, Michelle returned to Spokane and began to work at an early childhood education center.

Parents of many of the children were Habitat families.

With the model of Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary core to her belief in and commitment to social justice, she had hoped to address poverty by working with the preschoolers.

“I thought that at the pre-school, I could protect the children from their unstable lives, but I realized that if the parents had stable places to live they would all be better off,” said Michelle, a member of St. Aloysius parish.

After she started at Habitat in 2010, working through Americorps as volunteer coordinator, she realized that along with education, there was need for a holistic solution to poverty that includes health care, steady employment and a stable home.

“Education is a huge component to challenging poverty, as are other stabilizers,” said Michelle, who transitioned through several staff positions, and was chief development officer before becoming CEO.

More than the move is new with the local affiliate.  It has a development at Deer Park, and is involved with Neighborhood Revitalization, the Northeast Spokane Project Restoration and Veterans Repair Initiatives.

After a study on the increase in rural poverty and need for rural development, its 114-home Deer Park project started in 2007 with purchase of 20 acres.  Ground was broken in 2011, and now 26 homes are done. Four more homes, which will be built during the 2016 Blitz Build in June, will complete the first phase. 

A homeowners association will make decisions about the community.  Neighbors within the community volunteer to help each other with their sweat equity.

Phase Two is under way, and sewers, electrical connections, roads and sidewalks are being put in. 

Families in the program are able to select the exterior color, counter top color, gas or electric range and even a shed.

In Deer Park, a Vietnamese family moved in during June and faced language barriers to setting up utilities.  A Habitat neighbor across the street was a Vietnam veteran who knew a little Vietnamese.  He talked with the utility company and Habitat.

“This is how people come together to be good neighbors,” Michelle said.  “Habitat helps people build homes and gives them tools to build the community.”

The north-south freeway will ease commuting.  Commuting costs will be offset as families pay no more than 30 percent of their monthly income towards their mortgage.  The average monthly mortgage payment is $450.

Neighborhood Revitalization practices integrate empowerment components to engage families as neighbors.

“It’s not about Habitat building a neighborhood, but about residents creating their own neighborhood and gaining tools to advocate for themselves,” Michelle said.

Habitat’s focus is on building neighborhoods or communities, such as those near Felts Field, at North Pratt, at Greenfield Estates or at Liberty View.  A five-plex and two duplexes are near Boone and Madelia.

Neighborhood Revitalization also does rehabs and repairs in the core of Spokane, where six homes are being worked on.

 “In the core of Spokane, Habitat is not building new construction because land is not available or affordable,” Michelle said.  “Building houses to our standards would increase property taxes.”

Habitat is an anchor organization in THEZONE Partnership Network through its Project Restoration Program, which is concerned about education, health and economic growth, as well as housing.  The partnership will rehab or repair vacant homes in Northeast Spokane, making them safe, decent and affordable for low-to-moderate income families. 

Habitat’s Zone Project Restoration, which launched in January, will transform communities through Promise Zone funding.

Habitat-Spokane’s Veteran Repair Initiatives help veterans make their homes accessible by building ramps, widening doors, and doing minor to major repairs, such as roofing, rewiring and energy efficiency.

“Many congregations are involved in these projects, but we can always use more,” she said.

Others who help are businesses, corporations and civic groups that use a build as an opportunity for employees to develop leadership and build teamwork. 

Qualified applicants in the homeownership program commit to 500 hours of “sweat equity.”  They do 100 hours of work in the first six months and they quality for land assignment.  In addition to working on homes, they attend community fairs and workshops on budgeting, financial health and life skills.  That period helps make sure families succeed. 

“Habitat is not a quick fix program.  It takes one-and-a-half to two years from entering into the partnership to home closing,” said Michelle.

Habitat has nearly 40 families working towards home ownership, with 10 to 14 homes under construction at a given time, with construction underway all year.  It adds six families every quarter.  Habitat builds for the size of a family.  That could be from an individual to a family of nine or more.  About 30 percent are from the refugee community.”

Michelle said there are 10,000 instances of volunteering each year—with many people repeating. Each day, there are seven to 50 volunteers, depending on the phase of construction, from pouring foundations to painting trim.

“It’s amazing to see how many handprints are on each home.  Many community volunteers help as families put in their 500 hours of sweat equity.  By building their own homes, families know how they are built and can repair them,” Michelle said.

Many groups book every year.  Habitat builds all year, and needs more volunteers in the winter.

“Habitat is a ministry, an opportunity to build God’s Kingdom on earth,” said Michelle.  “It rings for me to participate in a ministry that at its core is love.  Habitat helps people put faith into action and is a great example for the community.”

Michelle said her faith grows as she sees individuals and families grow once they are in their homes, and sees God at work through friendships with new neighbors.

“Successes take time,” she said.  “Often we are impatient and want resolution now.  When we step back, we see God’s plan at work.”

For information, call 534-2552 or email michelle@habitat-spokane.org.





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