Habitat for Humanity plans to help revitalize Yelm communities through partnerships

By Daniel Warn / For Nisqually Valley News

Jonathan Thomas has been busy over the past year and a half knocking on doors and making inroads with community organizations to identify and meet community needs in Bucoda, and now his eyes are on Yelm.

Thomas is the neighborhood revitalization lead for the South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity. The Neighborhood Revitalization Program is an initiative that aims to help communities thrive by empowering residents to meet each other’s needs through shared value and community partnerships.

South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity purchased over 2 acres at 407 Longmire Ave. in Yelm in March 2020 using the Housing Finance Commission’s land acquisition scheme. The organization currently plans to build 22 homes in Yelm, hopefully by 2025, although this goal may be extended.

“We (recently) bought land in Yelm, and we also have land in Tumwater,” Thomas said. “The Yelm project will be…a combination of townhouses (and) seniors’ homes, like seniors’ bungalows. We can’t do much with the houses, being a non-profit organization, so we’re seeing if we can do another program that we’ve called neighborhood revitalization.

The program was launched in Bucoda. Thomas has spent most of 2021 traveling the community and working with partner organizations such as the city’s community coalition and its service center as well as Bethel Church and Joe’s Tavern, among others, to help support the community at local level.

“We’re trying to expand what we’re doing, trying to bring more products to the community,” Thomas said. “Neighborhood revitalization is about improving the quality of life for residents of a particular neighborhood or a community as a whole. And we’re trying to expand that.

In Bucoda, Habitat of Humanity has helped organize community gatherings designed to promote community and unity in a world separated by technological or health barriers.

One event that came out of the effort took place last September. Community members gathered for hot chocolate and received warm gloves for the impending winter. The slogan of the program was “brings warmth and growth to Bucoda.” At another event, the children met Santa Claus in December.

“With neighborhood revitalization, we’re trying to take an empowerment approach, as opposed to an improvement approach,” Thomas said. “An approach to improvement being that (someone) comes in and tells you what’s wrong with the neighborhood or the community and how to fix it. We try to take the empowerment approach, where we try to put residents first and advocate for their voice. »

Habitat of Humanity tries to put the community at the forefront of its efforts with the program so it can assess residents’ needs, wants and concerns, he said.

“We try to take a step forward by stepping back,” Thomas said. “We partner with (residents) and we partner with other organizations in the community to try to build that quality of life.”

When identifying a community for the program, Thomas said he looks at things like the area’s low-to-moderate median family income, homeownership, rental market numbers and coalitions. communities or community work going on in an area. It also looks at housing values ​​and what’s called the Communities in Distress Index, which weighs many of the factors Thomas listed.

Bucoda and Yelm were identified as top candidates for the program through the criteria evaluation, he said.

“We try to bring it back to what it means to be a community, what it means to identify with each other, what it means to connect with each other, what it means to support each other,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to bring the community together…and meet their needs so that people don’t have to go out of the community to meet their needs.”

Yelm residents shouldn’t be surprised if they see Thomas in the community, meeting people and trying to bring organizations together to partner with Habitat for the betterment of communities in the city, just like he did. in Bucoda.

One of the things the Neighborhood Revitalization program can help identify is where Habitat can deploy its essential home repair program.

“We’re really trying to help fix homes for people who can’t move or have fixed incomes,” Thomas said. “It can be anyone from veterans to disadvantaged homeowners, vulnerable adults with disabilities and young families.”

This is a program for homeowners whose income is less than 80% of the area median income, who are up to date with their mortgage and insurance payments, and who have an identified critical need for home repairs.

An example of a project would be building a wheelchair ramp in someone’s house.

Thomas said the critical home repair program is directly tied to neighborhood revitalization. Additionally, if there is a strong, self-sustaining community for the homes Habitat plans to build in Yelm, it is for the good of everyone involved.

“We’re trying to improve people’s lives outside of just building houses, because there’s not much we can do,” Thomas said. “We have the (Habitat) store in Yelm, and we have the property, so we’re trying to help the Yelm community through the neighborhood revitalization program.”

“For example, is there a way for us to help with these critical home repairs? Where are the people who can use it? That’s what we’re trying to find. We try to find and really help those people who really need a helping hand to help improve the quality of life and dignity, but also to identify if there is a place that could use this development community,” he said.

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