Habitat for Humanity finishes first Waimanalo home of 2010

Colleen Sanders

WAIMANALO—The Habitat for Humanity home off Kalanianaole Highway in Waimanalo, which began in late January, will be completed in early April and the Lopes family will take up residence after years of struggle.

For the past year, the Lopes family—Angela, Shayna, 16, Sierra, 14, and Shayne, 12—had been residing in the living room of an aunt’s house, so the move into their own space will be a welcome change.

The new three bedroom, one-and-a-half bathroom home went up at a record rate, largely due to the extraordinary amount of volunteer help, according to site manager Mark Saito.

“We got a nice magic happening,” Saito said. “It’s phenomenal numbers.”

He estimated over 200 volunteers had hands in the project, with one volunteer alone logging over 300 hours.

Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Dave Washburn qualified the progress. “There were a couple factors really working in our favor,” Washburn said. “One, we’re focusing on one house right now as an organization. Two, we had some great volunteer work resources that coalesced around us. We have, in many cases, more volunteers than we can use. We have a waiting list of about 10 groups of people.”

Groups came in from churches and schools as far away as Canada and work ran seven days a week. Also, because of the central location in Waimanalo, people passing by often stopped and got involved.

Renovating the house will benefit more than just the immediate family, but also the neighbors, said Wasburn. “Before they heard about Habitat there was some illegal things going on in the house,” Washburn said. “It was definitely a blight on the community. It was something where the family didn’t take true ownership of the property until they knew the financing we provided was available to them, and that changed everything.”

Habitat for Humanity also quantified the improvement to the community as a whole by renovating the house. “It’s essential for communities to have a high percentage of homeowners because I think it directly correlates with the health of the that community,” Washburn explained. “I’d characterize us at the higher end of low income housing because folks have to pay for a mortgage and be a responsible member of the community. But we do play an essential role because it’s more than just housing; it’s ownership. And the impact that makes on the family even psychologically—folks realize we really can tackle and be successful in reaching our goals.”

Habitat mortgages are not free but affordable. About $90,000, and recipients must pay $550 monthly for 20 years. In terms of affordable housing in Waimanalo, it’s one of few and limited options.

“Home ownership is one of a family’s greatest goals in many cases,” Washburn said. “From a community perspective, folks now will have a really nice house that’s going to be a part of their community. I think that has an uplifting effect on communities from a psychological standpoint. But even from a property value standpoint, when these kind of projects happen, it lifts the value of the entire community.”

The way it works is that Habitat holds fundraisers to pay for the construction of the house and the hiring of certain professionals. “We have to have the cash to build the home before we start building,” Washburn said. “Then what happens is as the family pays off the mortgage, it goes into a fund that enables us to finance more families just like them. Paying the mortgage is a real source of pride because they’re not only financing their own home, they’re helping another family in the future.”

The Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA) supplements rental payments for those with low incomes, but, according to Chief Planner Alan Sarhan, only 103 of over 5,000 available units are located in Waimanalo. “It’s in short supply,” Sarhan said.

A state program, the State Rental Supplement Program, also exists, although it is microscopic compared to the demand for affordable housing and only about 100 families are on the tab. Section 8 is not a reliable option anymore, either, Sarhan said: “That program is all full up too. Same with the state rent supplement program. The public housing units are all full and there’s a waiting list in the order of 8,000 to 10,000 people. None of our programs are any that someone can just come down and get into right away unless they meet one of our preferences.”

The Lopes family was able to become a Habitat partner because she had all her paperwork in order and happened to come across a Habitat meeting in Waimanalo. Lopes expressed admiration and gratitude for site managers Mark Presley and Mark Saito, as well as the workers, companies, and volunteers who contributed to their home.

The Lopes family has been in Waimanalo for over 60 years. And for the past 10, Angela and her children had been living in Ewa. With help from family, the single mother would support her children, but it was often difficult. “We would struggle every month, but I would find a way to make sure the bills were met and there was a roof over our heads,” Angela said.

2010 should be a busy year for Habitat, with up to six homes scheduled. Currently, and oddly, it seems resources are in higher supply than applicants.

“Volunteers are an incredible resource,” said Washburn. “We’re putting more focus right now on increasing the number of applicants and increasing the money flowing into our bank account so we can actually build the houses.”

One of the major limiting factors is the applicants must already own the land.

“There are other families that have had land through the generations of their family but they are in a financial situation where they can’t afford a loan to make the house livable,” Washburn said. “We want to have as many folks be informed of the services that we provide ... to build up the sense of hope so they have the courage to apply. Especially if we’re talking about families who are struggling financially or those who’ve been denied loan applications.

“It can be easy for a family to throw up their hands and say ‘forget it we’re not going to try this.’ A lot of times there are plots of land with homes that are on them, like [Lopes] that are unlivable because of the deterioration of the structure itself. Very often we’re the only option for families given the zero percent interest loans that we offer, and we use volunteer labor to drastically reduce the cost of the home from what it would be commercially. We’re basically the only option for families in certain economic bracket to become homeowners.”

For more information, visit http://www.honoluluhabitat.org/.

Lopes House Donors:
Bon Terra Solar
Wheaton Academy in Chicago
American Tradition Homes
Central Pacific Bank
Trinity Western University
Argessy International College
Watts Constructors
Grey Hong Nojima
Hawaii Architecture
Structural Inspectors Hawaii
Structural Hawaii Incorporated