‘A new life for our family’: Yakima mom, 3 kids get fresh start thanks to Habitat for Humanity

YAKIMA, Wash. — With inflation hitting people hard across the country and in the Yakima Valley, families are struggling to find affordable housing, but Habitat for Humanity is making a difference one house at a time.

After seven long months of construction, the nonprofit just finished work on its 198th home in the valley — one that will be helping single mom Kristen Smith and her three young sons to get a fresh start.

“I’m just excited to have our own space, something that we can call home,” Smith said.

The family of four has been sharing a two bedroom apartment for the last seven years with no yard for the boys to play in and no room for them to run around. Smith said that’s why she turned to Yakima Valley Partners Habitat for Humanity for help.

Smith said the application for housing was the easy part: filling out paperwork, making sure her credit was good enough and ensuring the debt ratio wasn’t too high.

“I think the hardest part for me was making time to do the volunteering, the extra 500 hours of sweat equity, being as I work full time as well as take care of my boys full time,” Smith said. “It was just hard for me.”

Volunteers, staff and friends of the family gathered Tuesday at the new home, located at the corner of West Viola and Voelker avenues, to celebrate with Smith.

“It’s been a long process, but we’re here to get our home blessed and start a new life for our family,” Smith said.

Yakima Habitat’s executive director Meloney Rosen said giving struggling families a fresh start is what the organization is all about — especially with the critical affordable housing shortage in the county.

“A lot of our homeowners come to us with a cost burden where they’re spending more than 50% of their income on housing and the housing probably really isn’t adequate for their family at the time,” Rosen said.

Rosen said they currently have eight families waiting for their homes to be built and have begun construction on three of those houses.

“They really live in dire situations sometimes before they come to us,” Rosen said. “And then when they get here, it still takes them a year to two years to get into a home, so they’re really working hard to make their lives better.”

Lately, Rosen said that work has gotten a lot more expensive due to inflation and other issues impacting the construction industry.

“Our home costs have gone up over 100% at this point and the cost of the home is really critical for homeowners because that’s what they’re having to pay back, unless we’re able to get grant money in order to offset that,” Rosen said.

But Rosen said it’s all worth it to make sure struggling families can finally live in a place that’s not just a house, but a home and that the time the homeowners spend helping throughout the process brings everyone closer together.

“We definitely become family; they’re our family now,” Rosen said. “And so it’s very exciting for us to have a family member become a homeowner.”

Rosen said the community can help by donating used goods to the nonprofit’s thrift store, making a financial contribution or volunteering to help build homes for families like Smith’s. More information about how to help is available here.

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