Habitat for humanity building communities in Blaine

Published on Thu, Nov 14, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Habitat for humanity building communities in Blaine

By Meg Olson

“My end is to build communities and my means is houses,” said Terry Mattson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County. He was in Blaine to rally the community around plans to build homes for several local families who could not otherwise afford them. “We believe everyone is entitled to an affordable and adequate place to live and grow.”

Founded in Georgia in the1970s, the program has built more than 110,000 new homes using volunteer labor, donated materials and low interest loans. “We’ve been in Whatcom County since 1987 and in the last few years it’s really come alive,” Mattson said. They have built 13 houses in the county so far and this year they built two homes in Ferndale and next year they will target Blaine. “We feel there’s a real need and there are certainly families that qualify,” he said.

The first step would be selecting a family, or perhaps two, for whom to build a home. “Selection is based on need and a family with children will probably be a focus,” Mattson said. “The neediest family who applies is the one we select.”

The next element is to find a low-cost or donated lot to build the home on. “If we get two lots donated we’ll build two houses,” Mattson said, adding that partial donations were also welcome. “Donations to the program are tax-deductible,” he said, from land to building materials.

“Next comes three-pronged support from the community – churches and civic clubs, government and business – raising funds, volunteers and donations,” Mattson said. “It’s an all-city project. The city will house one of its own and everybody needs to be involved.”

Some members of the Blaine business community are already in the swing of things and have already helped with other Habitat projects in the county, he added. Locksmith Al Dahl has donated and installed locksets for every Habitat home built in the county. Mattson said he wants to see the community build on that foundation to form a community network of donated goods and services. “We want a Blaine plumber, a Blaine electrician, Blaine contractors, Blaine windows and doors and lumber,” he said. A key need in Blaine, he said, would be a local contractor to be the construction manager for the project.

The program doesn’t rely completely on donations but uses a revolving loan fund to make up the difference. When the house is complete the new homeowner will pay off the loan, interest-free for the first 20 years, with payments calculated to fit with the family budget. “Habitat is not a giveaway program,” Mattson said. “This is a hand up, not a handout. We work with them, not for them.” The new homeowners are also an integral part of the construction team.

Once resources are in place the project will kick off with what Mattson calls a “framing blitz,” which relies heavily on lots of community volunteers. “We build the exterior of the house in a weekend,” he said. “The whole community is involved and we can even have an ice cream social and a raffle. The capstone is when that 45-foot wall goes up and the new homeowner says lift! It’s exhilarating.” He said they hope to break ground on the Blaine homes in spring of 2003. By fall, a three to four bedroom, one bathroom home will be ready for the new homeowners to move into.

Mattson said he had met with city officials and local business and community leaders and felt confident the city could muster the resources to build a house. “There’s a lot in Blaine,” he said. “Enough support to make this work.” Ultimately, Mattson added, the entire community reaps the benefits. “This network closes and seals the gaps in a community people can fall through,” he said.

To apply for a Habitat home, to register as a volunteer or to make a donation call Habitat for Humanity of Whatcom County at

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