Story by Cheri Rae
It’s an international movement with outposts in far-flung locales across the globe, such as Macedonia and Mexico, Ghana and Guatemala, Colombia and Cambodia, Uganda and the United States. Within the U.S., literally hundreds of affiliates work with Habitat for Humanity—including one right here in southern Santa Barbara County.Founded at the dawn of the new millennium, Santa Barbara Habitat for Humanity has built seven affordable homes to date: four on San Pascual Street and three on Via Lucero. It is poised to begin building its new project, a 12-unit complex on East Canon Perdido, a short walk to the transit lines and conveniences located on Milpas Street. Ground-breaking for the new energy-efficient homes is scheduled to take place this fall.
Two small, dreary lots on the street of the lost cannon will soon bustle with life on 19,303 square feet of hope—a place where a dozen families can grow roots and wings and have the very real opportunity to achieve their dreams, each in an affordable home of its own.
Habitat for Humanity offers a hand up, not a hand-out. Individuals who qualify for a home must meet stringent requirements that include employment in the county for a minimum of one year; earning 40–80 percent of the median annual income; volunteering 250 sweat-equity hours; the ability to pay $2,000 upon completion of the home; and commiting to a 16-month class in homeowner readiness.
Raquel Do Carmo is one of the lucky homeowners who qualified for a unit at the San Pascual development. “I had no construction experience at all,” she notes, “so at first I just pounded nails, then I learned to put in insulation, and I did a lot of painting. Now I’m pretty handy around the house.”
As she participated in the construction process, Do Carmo also built bonds with her soon-to-be-neighbors, who quickly became friends. “We were working with people we were going to be living with, helping build each other’s homes, learning to depend on each other. By the time we all moved in, we weren’t just a bunch of people, we were already neighbors. Habitat for Humanity just has that sense of community built in from the get-go.”
In addition to building affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity also sponsors “A Brush with Kindness,” a community volunteer program of neighbors helping neighbors spruce up their homes. Projects have included building a new driveway with donated pavers; landscaping, painting, brush-clearing and rebuilding fences; and other exterior fix-ups for low-income homeowners who have difficulty maintaining their properties.
Habitat for Humanity also operates the “ReStore,” where the eco-slogan of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is put into action—along with Rebuild. Situated in an industrial park near the airport, ReStore is stock-full of an ever-changing array of building materials, appliances, fixtures, ceramic tiles, doors, windows and just about everything else, including the kitchen sink.
Savvy shoppers know it’s the first place to check whenever the need arises for home-related supplies. On a recent visit, French doors, a set of brand-new wood-framed windows and a highly discounted wood-burning stove were real eye-catchers. The labor is mostly volunteer; the inventory is donated, and proceeds are returned to Habitat’s coffers.
Habitat for Humanity’s vision statement is a simple one: “A world where everyone has a decent place to live.” Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara adds an additional phrase, as it “seeks to unite people and communities in a spirit of true partnership by building houses with families in need regardless of race, nationality or religion.”
It’s the humanity in the habitat that really resonates with staff, volunteers and, particularly, the homeowners. Do Carmo, who is working on her Master’s in Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, considers the significance of getting the keys to her home: “I never had a place of my own. It was so surreal the first time I held them and opened the front door to a place I could decorate and live in a long time. I am so grateful Habitat for Humanity offered me the opportunity to do so.”
It is a safe, secure home; a clean, well-lighted place to live—and raise her child. The single mom also realizes how much having a stable home means to her 7-year-old daughter. “A couple of months after we moved in, I tucked her into bed, and she said, ‘I am really happy. I feel like I’ve found my home.’ Hearing her say that just meant the world to me.”