Bad weather, low volunteer numbers push Habitat for Humanity project behind schedule

Ali Dahl, a volunteer from City Church in Seattle, offers her construction expertise to the Habitat for Humanity project, La Fortuna, in southeast Renton. The project is in need of more vounteers. - Charles Cortes/Renton Reporter
Ali Dahl, a volunteer from City Church in Seattle, offers her construction expertise to the Habitat for Humanity project, La Fortuna, in southeast Renton. The project is in need of more vounteers.
— image credit: Charles Cortes/Renton Reporter

Hampered by bad weather and low volunteer numbers, the Habitat for Humanity project known as La Fortuna to build 11 affordable townhomes in southeast Renton is slightly behind schedule.

The project, just off Petrovitsky Road near 128th Avenue Southeast, will be finished in 2013.

“We don’t have a really strict schedule and we did get a late start,” said Mike Hammerquist, construction supervisor. “And we have been having low volunteer numbers during the week, so we’re not quite where we thought we would be.”

The original schedule had homeowners moving in fall 2011.

La Fortuna is a project of the Redmond-based Habitat for Humanity of East King County, which purchased the 4 1/2 acres for the housing in partnership with the Habitat for Humanity’s Seattle/South King County chapter.

The need for affordable housing is still great.

“There is a need for better housing for a lot of people,” said Hammerquist. “And by providing housing for somebody – you take people who’ve had almost no disposable income, now they have money to maybe save for college or buy a more efficient car or go back school, maybe even take a vacation.”

Potential homeowners must be willing to donate 500 hours of “sweat equity” to building their house or a neighbor’s house.

So far, Habitat has four families selected to move into the townhomes. There has been a little bit of a problem finding a family for their 6-bedroom home that has the right income level.

“Usually we don’t have a lot of problems, there’s plenty of qualified people out there, just not everybody wants to do our program,” Hammerquist said.

In addition to the 500 hours of “sweat equity,” homeowners have to participate in homeowner education classes, speak at events and other volunteer activities.

“Many families continue to volunteer with us, attend events and be an ambassador in the community for Habitat long after they have become a Habitat homeowner,” said Jodi Marmion, special events and communications officer for Habitat.

Hammerquist said there is value in owning a home because renting cheaply, one has to move frequently to pay the same amount in rent, forcing families with kids to change schools often. And they get no money back once they move out.

“But, with our program they sell the homes back to us and they get – we provide a zero interest mortgage,” he said. “So they get all their mortgage money back, if they decide to sell and move on. So, it’s a really good ‘hand-up’ program and it changes a lot of things – stability of having the same home.”

Habitat had a special event during January and February to get volunteers to come out by offering a free lunch and t-shirt, but still couldn’t get the numbers they needed.

“But, [we] don’t set a really firm schedule, we just try to work with the volunteers and the materials and the weather and, you know, get it done when we can,” said Hammerquist.

Their volunteer schedule is Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. He expects that when the weather gets nicer, they will have 25 to 30 people on a Saturday. They typically have about 20 volunteers during the week and get more homeowners, who also bring their friends to help donate hours on Saturdays.

They have six townhouses that they’ve started and they will start five more when the weather gets better. Right now they have the foundation in and they are framing the garage level.

Habitat usually has six Americorps volunteers onsite who work five days a week. They help out by leading crews of volunteers.

“It’s got a good mission and it’s helping people out in the community and that’s a good thing, I think,” said Asa Peller, an Americorps volunteer from Ohio working at La Fortuna.

Peller thought the project was a good opportunity to use the skills he has from his architecture degree and to do some community service.

Joining him on March 17 were some college-age members of the City Church who came out to volunteer their time building the townhomes in honor of their church’s “Jesus is” campaign.

“So instead of just putting it into words, you know, about who Jesus is, we wanted to show it with our actions and kind of come out just help out in whatever way we can,” said Marie Martinez.

Maple Valley-based Cedar Grove Composting has donated 180 yards of compost to the project. Other volunteers include representatives from Bank of America, the City of Renton, Cheesecake Factory, BJ’s Restaurant and Olive Garden.

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