With work and financial help, Tulalip tribal members have a new home

TULALIP — For 15 years, Jennifer and Kevin Johnson lived in a 700-square-foot rental house, where they raised three children.

Thursday, the Tulalip tribal members were presented with the keys to a new house more than three times the size of their rental.

And best of all: they had a hand in its construction.

“For me it’s a blessing,” Jennifer Johnson, 38, said. “It feels wonderful. I’m beaming with pride and it’s a job we did.”

The five-house construction project in a subdivision called Mission Highlands is the first U.S. Department of Agriculture funded Self Help Housing subdivision on tribal lands, Mario Villanueva, USDA state director, told about 80 people who gathered for a ceremony Thursday.

“You’re making history,” he said.

In 2008, the Tulalip Tribes dedicated five reservation lots to kick off the Self Help program through Housing Hope, a Snohomish County nonprofit that since 1987 has worked to provide affordable housing in Snohomish County and on Camano Island.

The Department of Agriculture provided low-cost financing — available only to low income families in rural areas — of $132,000 to $139,000.

The federal agency also provided $26,335 to each family to cover the cost of a construction supervisor and loan processing.

Federal Home Loan Bank pitched in, too, providing a subsidy of about $15,998 per family for other building expenses. Sweat equity is expected in exchange for subsidized, low-interest loans with no down payment.

“It was real exciting and it was a great learning experience for me,” said Kevin Johnson, 39, a carpenter. “We have the biggest house on both sides of the family, so now there will be room when everyone comes over.”

Each family pitched in 25 hours of labor a week toward house construction.

“My nephew and grandson and some friends helped me,” said tribal elder Marvin Jones, 66, who was born on the reservation.

“Nine adults and 12 children are going to call this little piece of God’s earth their own for years to come,” said Ed Peterson, Housing Hope’s executive director.

Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429, ohalpert@heraldnet.com.

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