Helping to build a sustainable home

Published on Wed, Jan 15, 2014
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A month ago, Habitat for Humanity in Whatcom County broke ground on the site of what will soon be a decent, affordable home for a family in Birch Bay. Now, the organization is steadily raising funds in time for the first build day, set for Thursday, March 15.

Local volunteers with Habitat’s Women Build program will construct the home in partnership with future owners Julio and Juana Ortiz and their four children. The home will feature an ultra-energy-efficient design and donated solar panels from Western Solar. Habitat expects the finished home will produce nearly as much energy as it uses.

The Ortizes moved from Guatemala to Whatcom County seven years ago. Julio, who was a teacher in Guatemala, now works
 at Clark’s Berry Farm in Lynden as a farm hand and tractor driver. He works up to 60 hours per week, but still struggles to pay rent and support his family due to higher rent and living costs. 

Habitat for Humanity aims to help families like the Ortizes escape substandard housing and improve their economic status. The Ortizes will still owe a mortgage on their home and will put more than 500 hours of “sweat equity” into it, but when the mortgage is paid off they will be out from under a cycle of debt that keeps many Whatcom County families struggling to make ends meet.

Habitat Whatcom has built 33 homes for more than 145 Whatcom County residents since 1987.

Kirsten Hammer, resource development manager for Habitat Whatcom, said the Women Build program empowers women while providing an opportunity for community involvement.

“It allows women who are concerned about the issue of substandard housing to have a positive impact in their communities, but a lot of women are applying because they want to learn carpentry skills. They want to learn how to pound a nail and hang a window. It’s empowering to learn those skills, and satisfying to see a project through to completion,” she said.

Hammer said 10 teams of 10 women have signed up for the project to date, but since the build is scheduled over 20 weekends, “there’s room for 100 more volunteers,” she said. The teams have to be at least 75 percent women, which leaves room for men to get involved as well.

The project’s fundraising goal is $25,000. 

“We’re making headway,” Hammer said. “There’s always room for businesses to donate and help sponsor the build.”

You can help out as well by donating $3 online at