Habitat for Humanity gives family ‘an extra life’

When Yesihak Hassen was spending 15 days in the jungle trying to escape the violence in his homeland of Ethiopia, he never could have imagined where he would be 26 years later. “I feel like I’m living an extra life now,” Hassan said from his new home in Renton.

Yesihak Hassen and his son Jawhar sit in the living room of their new townhouse. The family is able to own the home through the efforts of Habitat for Humanity of East King County.

When Yesihak Hassen was spending 15 days in the jungle trying to escape the violence in his homeland of Ethiopia, he never could have imagined where he would be 26 years later.

“I feel like I’m living an extra life now,” Hassan said from his new home in Renton.

Hassen and his family moved into their home through Habitat for Humanity of Seattle-King County in early November, just in time to have family over for the holidays.

“I’ve just been calling everybody and saying come on down,” he said.

Hassen met his wife Hannan in Sudan and they moved to Washington in 1993 with the International Rescue Committee. They have four children, Sofia (18), Rukeya (13), Firdaus (9), and Jawhar (4). Hannan’s mother Rugeya also lives with the family.

Before getting their new home, the seven lived in a three-bedroom, one- bathroom apartment in Seattle.

“It was really hard with one bathroom,” Hassen said. “We knocked into each other all the time. Now with three, there’s no problem at all.”

The family had been applying with Habitat for Humanity in Seattle for more than 10 years without any success. One of their neighbors suggested they go to East King County and try.

“Finally I was selected,” Hassen said. “It was unbelievable. I didn’t even believe it until I moved in.”

The Hassen family was selected through what Habitat executive director Tom Granger called a “very rigorous process.” Once the families are picked, they have to fit the necessary three kinds of need.

First, they need to be below the 50th percentile of area median income. Second, they need to be currently living in substandard housing. Finally, they have to be willing to partner with Habitat presently and in the future.

“They must be willing to partner and that continues after they get the home,” Granger said. “We expect the families to be great representatives for the Habitat mission.”

The families have to stay in the house for at least a year, and also they must belong to the homeowner’s association, and pay dues. That helps set up a reserve for paying any major repairs that might come up.

Granger said the selection process usually takes a few months, then the families are notified and they begin putting in their 500 hours of sweat equity in the home during construction.

Of the 500 hours of work, 400 must be in construction.

“They’re out there literally building the homes,” Granger said.

For Hassen, it wasn’t just about the work. It was about learning his new home, inside and out.

“I feel like I know every corner now,” he said. “Now I feel like if I see something wrong, I’m going to fix it.”

Hassen and his family live in the Habitat for Humanity La Fortuna neighborhood in Renton. Ground broke on the 41 townhouses in June 2010. Construction was completed on the first six in October. The next five will be completed by May 2013.

After all the financial troubles this site had run into with the economy taking a downturn in the early stages of planning, Granger said it means a lot to have the first building done.

“It’s very symbolic,” he said. “It’s a symbol of the success of the efforts of the community, and everybody pulling together to decide that through all the challenges that the best outcome was for Habitat to be able to build affordable housing on that site.”

Around 90 percent of labor on Habitat for Humanity homes comes from volunteers. If you’re interested in volunteering or other information, email info@habitatskc.org.

“The people who volunteer and helped put this together are amazing,” he said.

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