PORT TOWNSEND — Everyone in the community can be a philanthropist, said Maria Drury, who works with many people who live that label.
The definition of philanthropist, she said, is one who loves one’s fellow human beings.
As a staff member at Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County, Drury sees philanthropy up close: people giving dollars and their time as volunteers for the organization whose stated vision is a world where everybody has a decent place to live.
At Habitat’s milestone ceremonies — when families move into the homes they’ve built — she gets a shot of joy.
In East Jefferson County, the Habitat chapter has built 53 homes since it was founded in 1998. Earlier this year, three partner families, as they’re known in Habitat parlance, moved into the houses built with “sweat equity,” as in hands-on construction work by the new homeowners.
In Clallam County, Habitat for Humanity has built 35 homes in Forks, Sequim and Port Angeles since the chapter formed in 1991. Two houses are now under construction where the future residents are working together, along with volunteers, to help build both properties.
The need is great, according to the Clallam County chapter, which estimates on its website that the living wage in Clallam County is at $23.84 an hour while the minimum wage is $13.50 an hour.
In January, the East Jefferson County chapter will have two more houses under construction, to be followed by the building of seven duplex-style homes on Landes Street across from the Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park.
These are a small fraction of what’s needed out there, said Jamie Maciejewski, East Jefferson’s Habitat executive director for nearly 15 years.
Last summer, as Habitat’s 2021-2022 fiscal year began, 84 households applied — the largest number ever.
“It was really startling,” Maciejewski said.
Of those applicants, 29 were fully qualified. They met all of the criteria in terms of income and willingness to dive in to building their houses.
Habitat of East Jefferson could select only seven projects, as funding was only available for that many homes in Port Townsend and Port Hadlock.
This chapter also does critical home repairs — from new roofs to new septic systems — all over East Jefferson County. To date, Habitat has finished 35 of those major projects.
Crew from both counties
On Friday, a crew from Jefferson and Clallam counties worked on a two-bedroom house-to-be across 19th Street from Salish Coast Elementary School in Port Townsend.
This will be a place with lots of natural light, said supervisor David Weld.
He drives in to the job site from Sequim, in all weather, to teach and work with his volunteer team. If all goes as planned, the partner family will move into their 890-square-foot house in June.
A complex mortgage arrangement and a policy that prevents the homeowners from flipping their new houses keep Habitat-built homes affordable.
Yet before anybody can move in, Drury, whose title is director of engagement, gathers the support base: volunteers and donors of all kinds.
At the Habitat for Humanity store at 2001 W. Sims Way, she said, there’s a giving tree where “people can donate at all levels and see what their support makes possible,” along with shopping for used housewares and furniture.
Habitat stores are open too in Port Angeles and Sequim; volunteers and donors help keep them humming.
For information about the Clallam County chapter’s activities, see www.habitatclallam.org; the hotline for furniture donations to the stores is 360-417-7543.
Donations for both stores are taken only at the Port Angeles store, 728 E. Front St.
Store revenue accounts for 10 to 15 percent of Habitat of East Jefferson’s $3.5 million annual budget, Drury noted. Her position, which she took after she was laid off from her previous job in mid-2020, is funded by a three-year grant from the Murdock Charitable Trust.
“One of the things we most need are people who help us build,” said Drury, who added she and the staff can set groups up on job sites: book clubs or employee groups, for example, who can work one full day, once a week, for a few months or more.
These volunteers work alongside the new homeowners toward a shared goal: good housing for everybody.
In the coming year, this Habitat chapter could embark on a project to enable it to build more houses. Maciejewski calls the plan “permanent affordability,” because Habitat would purchase land, remain its owner and lease parcels to homeowners. If they choose to sell, the agreement requires them to keep their prices in the affordable range.
This ground-lease arrangement is known in many communities as a land trust model, Maciejewski said. Many Habitat chapters use it.
“We’re working on some land parcels right now,” she added. “This would be tremendously exciting to me.”
Other possibilities are appearing on the horizon. The city of Port Townsend is considering purchase of a 14-acre parcel on Evans Vista, a street south of Sims Way, for construction of 100 or more affordable housing units. No builder has been identified, but Maciejewski said she’s optimistic.
Multiple players could be part of this large project, she said, and Habitat could be one, alongside other local housing providers.
“I would just love to see the city play its role of getting land that’s developable,” and then issuing a request for proposals, Maciejewski said.
In the Port Townsend City Council’s talks about Evans Vista, “affordable” and “workforce” are two terms used to describe its types of housing.
The former refers to residents earning 50 to 80 percent of the area median income while the latter denotes earners making 80 to 120 percent of the AMI.
Maciejewski noted, however, that the prospective homeowners Habitat works with, whatever their incomes, are in the workforce.
“Affordable” and “workforce” housing, as she sees it, aren’t necessarily two different things.
All of us “need housing that’s not going through the roof,” she said.
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]