Two years ago this week, just three days after the devastating mudslide claimed 43 lives near Oso, Habitat for Humanity of Snohomish County’s board of directors got together. They decided the nonprofit should build a house to help someone affected by the slide.
On May 9, 2014, 49 days after the mudslide, two old houses burned in north Everett. During the midday blaze, flames spread from the roof of one house to the other. No one was hurt, but the houses next to each other near the corner of 23rd Street and Lombard Avenue were destroyed.
The lots are bare, but soon construction will start at 2010 23rd St. A groundbreaking ceremony was held there Saturday for what Habitat for Humanity calls its Phoenix II project. The home to be built, like the phoenix of Greek mythology, will rise from a place once covered in ash.
Habitat’s first Phoenix project, about 10 years ago, was building a new house on Everett’s 19th Street. A home had burned there, too.
More than 30 miles separate Everett from Oso. Without a doubt, there’s a big cultural divide between the urban neighborhood and the rural Stillaguamish Valley. Still, the goal of local Habitat leaders is to build that 23rd Street house for people who experienced hardships after the mudslide.
Guinn Rogers, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Snohomish County, said that the agency has been raising money for the project since the mudslide. “At the same time, we’ve been looking for a family who would benefit from that, but would also be willing to live in Everett,” he said.
Rogers said several people from the Stilly Valley have considered the chance to build the house and obtain an affordable mortgage. “For one reason or another, different folks who have expressed interest have pulled back,” he said.
Some decided to move out of state. Others wanted to stay in the Arlington or Darrington areas, or decided against the commitment of building a house. One family submitted an application, but withdrew it last week. “So we’re looking again,” Rogers said.
Habitat for Humanity International is a ministry helping people with modest income become homeowners. The organization is the lender, and Habitat loans are no-interest.
The local Habitat was founded 25 years ago, and the Everett house will be the 25th one to be built by the nonprofit. The county’s first Habitat house is in Lynnwood. It was 1997 when that family moved in, and last year the owner paid off her mortgage.
Rogers said applicants generally must earn between 20 percent and 80 percent of the area’s median household income. Future homeowners are also required to contribute many hours of labor, “sweat equity,” often on weekends.
“The average price to purchase a home in Everett is pushing $400,000, but we’re not anywhere near that,” Rogers said. Mortgages for the last four Habitat homes built locally were $229,000 to $255,000.
Why didn’t Habitat acquire a lot closer to Oso?
“We tried — oh my, did we try,” Rogers said. The cost was either too high, or sites required the purchase of large amounts of acreage.
The organization paid $45,000 for the Everett lot, which is near the group’s Habitat Store on Broadway. Rogers said the group looked into buying the lot next door, but its ownership is complicated.
Last year, Habitat completed a five-home Marysville development called Altena Gardens. Sixteen children are now growing up in the little neighborhood, Rogers said.
In the planning stage, he said, is a south Everett project along 112th Street near I-5. Construction will likely start in 2018 on 26 to 28 homes Rogers described as a village.
He still hopes the home rising from ashes in Everett will help someone who endured the aftermath of the terrible mudslide.
“We certainly understand there’s a reason folks live up in that area. It’s beautiful, very peaceful,” he said. “To move to a more urbanized area — it is what it is.”
Habitat may hold meetings in the Arlington and Darrington areas to reach out and explain the opportunity.
If a family with ties to the Stilly Valley isn’t found, Rogers said, “we will at least dedicate the home in memory of those who lost their lives.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Habitat for Humanity of Snohomish County seeks a family significantly affected by the 2014 Oso mudslide to become the owner of a house the nonprofit is building in Everett. The family must meet Habitat income requirements and contribute labor during construction. For information, call Guinn Rogers at 425-405-7767 or email: email@example.com