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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Growing Community with Habitat for Humanity

Feb 28, 2020 11:00AM ● By Melissa Mendonca

Building with Purpose

March 2020
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos courtesy of Habitat for Humanity

WHILE EVERY FAMILY will have milestones that mark their history and commitment – anniversaries, graduations, job promotions – home ownership is one that grounds them to a community, stabilizes a sense of place. “A decent and affordable home is the foundation for a hard-working family’s efforts to create a better future,” says Deanna Saldana, Resource Development Officer at Habitat for Humanity of Tulare/Kings Counties.

In the San Joaquin Valley, two affiliate groups of the international housing organization Habitat for Humanity are rallying community to bring the dream of affordable housing to more of our neighbors. “We are not the solution to the homeless situation, but in light of how dire it is, the need for our work is clear,” adds Saldana.

The work of Habitat for Humanity is multi-fold and includes new home construction, home preservation, community revitalization and home improvements so older owners can age in place. “Anything that enhances quality of community,” says Matthew Grundy, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater Fresno.

Habitat for Humanity affiliates are perhaps best known for their new home builds. The organization finds land and labor, with significant “sweat equity” contributed by the new homeowner and community volunteers, to build homes a qualifying family can afford with mortgage payments over a 25- to 30-year period. The homes are not free, but rather built to be affordable for a working family of any size.

“Keeping it affordable is that one-third of an income bracket that allows the other two-thirds of the income to go to things that are really necessary: food, education, etc.,” says Saldana, who has witnessed Habitat families send their children to college for the first time because their housing was safe and affordable. “So many are heavily house burdened,” she adds. “In many cases more than half their income goes to housing.”

Community participation is key to success and a driver of production. “It takes a whole tribe to raise those walls,” says Saldana, noting that committees in Porterville and Hanford are on the ground seeking land opportunities, funds, volunteers and qualifying families. “We find that one of the best ways to help us is through leadership,” 
she adds.

In the Greater Fresno area, 4,000 volunteers gathered in 2019 in support of 300 families through the affiliate. In addition to new home production, which includes 15 homes currently in various stages of construction, volunteers engage in twice-weekly Acts of Kindness. “No strings attached,” says Grundy. Volunteers show up at homes needing tender loving care and ask homeowners if they can help out with things like fence repair, painting and landscaping. “One of the major deterrents of crime in a neighborhood is cut lawns,” he adds.

Neighborhood revitalization programs allow the affiliates to invest in existing housing stock. This was a game changer for the Goldsmith family of Hanford, who quickly went from a family of four to eight through birth and adoptions through the foster system. “We are so thankful,” says Rachel Goldsmith of the renovations that included adding a bathroom and bedroom to their three-bedroom/one-bathroom house. “Now we have two children in each room and no babies in our room, which is just a miracle,” she says. “We finally have room for ourselves and the kids have their own bathroom.”

Founded in 1976, Habitat for Humanity International has helped more than 29 million people across the globe build or improve their homes. Locally, the Tulare/Kings Counties affiliate was created in 1994 after locals were encouraged by a speech given by Millard Fuller, the organization’s co-founder. The Greater Fresno affiliate is currently in its 35th year and holds the distinction of being the 100th affiliate.

“It’s all about us together as a community,” says Gundy, noting that at least 45,000 people in the greater Fresno service area are in substandard housing. “There are real needs for those who live here.”

Local affiliates run Habitat ReStores around the area, thrift stores of excess construction materials and other home goods. These keep materials from the landfill, allow community members to buy quality materials for home improvement projects at a reduced price, and fund Habitat activities in the local area.

It’s said there’s no place like home. For the hundreds of volunteers working to support the ideals of Habitat for Humanity, there’s no feeling quite like helping others make a house a home right here in the Valley. •

Habitat for Humanity Tulare/Kings Counties
637 S. Lovers Lane, Visalia •

Habitat for Humanity Greater Fresno
4991 E. McKinley Ave. Suite 123, Fresno

Melissa Mendonca is a graduate of San Francisco State and Tulane universities. She’s a lover of airports and road trips and believes in mentoring and service to create communities everyone can enjoy. Her favorite words are rebar, wanderlust and change.