by Ian Ferguson
Whatcom-Skagit Housing, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income families build their own homes, recently purchased 44 lots in the Drayton Reach neighborhood, with plans to build single-family homes on all but one of the lots.
Whatcom-Skagit Housing builds affordable homes in rural areas. To qualify, potential homeowners must meet rigorous criteria and do most of the construction themselves. Nancy Larsen-Kolakowski, the executive director of Whatcom-Skagit Housing, said the homes it helps build aren’t what many people think of when they hear the words “low-income housing.”
“The homes are energy-star certified and have great curb appeal,” Larsen-Kolakowski said. The Whatcom-Skagit Housing website describes the houses’ features, such as double insulated walls, floors, windows and doors; attached double-car garages with paved sidewalk and driveway; natural gas central heating, basic appliances and washer/dryer hookups and Hardi-Plank lap siding. Basic landscaping is included.
To qualify, potential homeowners must be employed full time and have good credit. They must also be willing to commit 35 hours per week to building homes along with other families in their building group for almost a year. Larsen-Kolakowski said that’s no small feat.
“It’s not the government handing out a key,” she said. “It’s a good year of hard work. These people are working full time, often raising kids, and then are able to put in 35 hours per week building homes. It amazes me, and I have a great respect for the people who do this.”
In return for their investment of time and effort, clients have no out-of-pocket costs – no down payment and no closing fees – but they must pay off a loan once the house is completed.
According to the nonprofit’s website, those monthly loan payments are often lower than what their clients once paid for rent.
“They’re doing 65 percent of the labor, and by the time the house is done they have $20,000-25,000 in equity,” Larsen-Kolakowski said.
The new homeowners are often outstanding stewards of their new home, keeping up their landscaping and investing in improvements, Larsen-Kolakowski said. “They’ve put so much effort into building their home and they want to keep it looking nice.”
Developer Homestead Northwest was the previous owner of the land located off of Runge Avenue near Blaine Road, Peace Portal Drive and Drayton Harbor. The land has remained mostly vacant since the company declared bankruptcy in 2012. Dozens of lots had been cleared for development.
“It’s our opinion that we’re going to be improving the neighborhood,” Larsen-Kolakowski said. “We’re going to be putting in a sound barrier next to the railroad and cleaning up the area. It’s gotten pretty unkempt over the years.”
Whatcom-Skagit Housing is a private nonprofit corporation funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The organization groups 7-10 families together to construct each other’s homes. It also assists the families in applying for rural housing loans and provides build-ready lots, house plans, subcontractor assistance and instructions for every phase of construction.
Michael Jones, Blaine’s community development director, said he has dealt with Whatcom-Skagit Housing before.
“In my experience with them, they have been a great model,” Jones said.
Whatcom-Skagit Housing will hold an informative meeting for area residents on Wednesday, October 15. The meeting will be held on the second floor of the Windermere Real Estate offices in Birch Bay Square at 6:30 p.m.