Katelyn Irving has moved six times in the last five years, navigating the challenging domestic labyrinth required of a single mother with a job and childcare bills in a housing market where prices increasingly outpace wages.
As Irving scoured ads searching for an adequate living arrangement, having made a promise to herself to secure stability for her 2-year-old son, she watched as rental prices continued climbing and waitlists for affordable housing grew. Then she came across a posting from Habitat for Humanity, which set in motion a lengthy process of applications and paperwork, hundreds of hours of sweat equity, and finally a place to truly call home.
As she stood in that home last week, surrounded by Habitat for Humanity of Flathead Valley (HFHFV) Executive Director Bob Helder and Community Outreach Coordinator Rebecca Wilson, she recalled the moment last year when she heard her application had been accepted.
“It was just so exciting to get that call: ‘You’re going to have a home,’” she said. “It’s unreal. It really is absolutely amazing. I didn’t think I would ever get here, and I couldn’t have done it without (HFHFV).”
Irving and her son are among 204 people, including 124 children, to secure a home and affordable mortgage through the local organization over the last 30 years. The townhomes of Irving and two other single mothers, including one who has been living in a 300-square-foot RV with her four sons, will be formally dedicated at a Nov. 13 ceremony. The three attached townhomes are located on Sixth Avenue West in Kalispell and bring HFHFV’s three-decade total to 60 homes built.
Helder said it’s a common misconception that Habitat for Humanity gives away houses. In fact, applying families must meet a number of requirements before acceptance and then commit 500 hours of sweat equity into building the house — 250 hours themselves and 250 from extended family, friends and acquaintances. Approved applicants also take first-time homebuyer and financial courses, and they’re responsible for paying the 30-year affordable no-interest mortgage.
The idea is that it’s a “hand up, not a handout,” and HFHFV says it partners with “deserving, qualified families” in its mission to “break the cycle of poverty, increase opportunities for financial improvement and for success, all while creating a world where everyone has a decent place to live on terms they can afford to pay.”
“The vision of HFHFV is to eliminate substandard housing in Flathead County,” the organization states. “We work to empower hardworking, low-income families by helping them transition out of substandard housing into simple, decent, affordable homes of their own.”
The dedication ceremony will be an opportunity to celebrate the new homeowners, thank the community and highlight HFHFV’s 30-year anniversary. The nonprofit relies on a vast network of volunteers, donors and supporters of various kinds to carry out its mission statement: “Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, community and hope.”
Support takes on many forms, from the manual labor involved with building the homes to the myriad logistics that power such an operation, including donated meals to feed crews, financial assistance, volunteered expertise from tradespeople, donated materials, volunteering at its retail operation and more. A total of 539 volunteers contributed 12,357 hours to building the three Kalispell townhomes.
“There’s a lot that comes with working with so many volunteers and making sure all their experiences are excellent,” Wilson said. “We’ve had a ton of support. It’s fantastic.”
HFHFV was established in 1989 as an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, an Atlanta-headquartered international Christian organization. Helder says his organization has five divisions: construction, retail, mortgage, volunteer and nonprofit. He notes that it’s a full-fledged construction operation, powered by volunteers and led by supervisor Steve Tartaligno. The south Kalispell retail store, ReStore, accepts and sells donated gently used home goods and leftover building materials.
Helder likes to say that “every $100 donated equals one square foot of an affordable mortgage, a child’s bedroom, a kitchen where meals will be cooked, or a living room where memories will be created.”
Since taking over two years ago, Helder has overseen a period of growth, and the organization has broken ground on a new project to build five homes in Lakeside. There were 23 completed applications for the Lakeside homes, and plenty more interest. Helder says the demand is largely driven by need as the valley faces an affordable housing crisis, and he has big ambitions to continue expanding HFHFV to meet those needs.
“We want to launch more programs so we can touch more lives, and we’re looking at more ways our community can support our mission,” he said. “And people are getting it. They see the need. The community is incredible in helping us.”
The public is welcome to attend the Nov. 13 dedication at 5:30 p.m. to meet the families, staff and tour the homes at 1314, 1318 and 1322 6th Ave. W in Kalispell. Light appetizers and drinks will be served.
Visit www.habitatflathead.org for more information.