Editors Note: With this story, we continue our annual Featured Non-Profit series, in which each week through the holiday season we highlight the work of a local non-profit, including ways to help in this season of giving. We encourage support for these worthy charities.
By Polly Keary, Editor
The family was out of work, and on the way from Oregon to Lake Stevens with all their goods in a U-Haul, planning to stay with relatives while the parents tried to find jobs.
They stopped at the Monroe Burger King for lunch. The father went to the bathroom. Ten minutes later, his wife went looking for him, to find the U-Haul gone. The man had abandoned her and her three children, leaving them homeless and destitute.
She might have remained homeless indefinitely but for Snohomish County affordable housing organization Housing Hope, which provided her an apartment in Sultan at a price she could afford until she got on her feet.
Putting people with low incomes or in crisis in temporary and long-term housing that meets their needs and that they can afford is the mission of Housing Hope, and the organization is expanding rapidly in Monroe.
“We have four kinds of shelter,” said Housing Hope Communications Director Nate Greenland last week, outside the building site on Fremont Street where construction workers are putting up a six-unit building for transitional and low-income housing. “We have emergency shelters, transitional housing, permanently affordable housing and self-help home ownership housing.”
Emergency shelter is for people who need a temporary place to stay. Transitional housing is for people who need help getting on their feet before they can achieve stability and long-term housing. Permanent affordable housing is for people who earn below a certain amount who need housing they can afford. And self-help home ownership offers people who otherwise would not be able to afford a house the opportunity to help build their own homes and finance them affordably.
The organization was created 25 years ago and today includes about 350 housing units in Snohomish County.
But within two years, that number will have greatly increased, and most of the growth will be in the Monroe area.
Currently, on Fremont Street, Woods Creek Village is under construction, and will bring the number of units of transitional and permanent affordable housing there to 14.
At three separate locations around Monroe, a total of 34 self-help homes will be completed next year.
And this spring, Housing Hope will break ground on a 47-unit complex on West Main Street, to include a service center for all Housing Hope residents in East Snohomish County.
That will bring the number of units of affordable housing in the East County to 155, 68 of which are owned homes.
And that is projected to bring $20 million in economic activity to the area.
But Housing Hope does a lot more than just get people indoors.
The model of the organization is “service-enriched housing,” and case managers work closely with each resident to help him or her achieve economic independence.
“We partner with Take the Next Step to teach 35 life skills classes, including classes on credit, parenting, tenant law and the other big skills people need,” said Greenland.
Families staying in Housing Hope homes contribute to their rent, paying 30 percent of their income, until they are earning enough to no longer qualify for low-income housing and they move into apartments or houses of their own.
Housing Hope also partners with WorkSource, which helps people find the kind of job that leads to housing stability; according to their analysis, in order to afford an apartment, a household needs a combined income of at least $20.41 per hour.
To that end, Housing Hope is launching another initiative called Hope Works. The organization plans to start a series of businesses in which Housing Hope residents can work in order to learn skills that can support them, such as landscaping, house painting and other jobs that dovetail with Housing Hope’s needs.
The organization is funded with a broad array of federal, state and local grants. And a good deal of the funding, as well as volunteer labor, comes from the community.
Currently, Housing Hope is seeking donations of specific items needed to complete the Woods Creek Village project, such as a bike rack, area rugs, microwaves and more.
To learn how to fund a need, visit the Housing Hope website at www.housinghope.org.
Saturday, March 16, Housing Hope will seek more than 100 volunteers for a volunteer construction day to do such finishing projects as planting trees, installing playground equipment, building a community garden and more.
And March 14, the organization will hold its annual dinner and auction fundraiser at Echo Falls Golf Club.
Ultimately, the goal of Housing Hope is to move each resident on into stable, middle income lives. Success stories are many. A family in Marysville that started out in a shelter, recovering from drug addiction and with a child on the way, now lives comfortably in their own self-help home on a good family-wage income. A Sultan woman with two children who found herself escaping a bad relationship by moving into her mother’s cramped trailer eventually married the father of their two children, and the couple now earns too much to live in assisted housing and has moved to a home of their own.
And the woman abandoned at Monroe’s Burger King got on her feet at Sultan’s Winters Creek development, and when she needed strength, her case manager was there. When her husband returned and tried to win her back over, it was her case manager who helped her find the strength to refuse. Today she has a good management job at Costco.
“We were there to catch her in a safety net when the bottom fell out,” said Greenland. “A year ago she moved out of Housing Hope and she and her kids are thriving.”