Navy builds 28th affordable home for Island County Habitat for Humanity

Brandon Kelly, Roy Leitch and Jason Snyder of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit work on Island County Habitat for Humanity’s latest home in Oak Harbor. This is the nonprofit’s 28th year on Whidbey. - Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times
Brandon Kelly, Roy Leitch and Jason Snyder of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit work on Island County Habitat for Humanity’s latest home in Oak Harbor. This is the nonprofit’s 28th year on Whidbey.
— image credit: Justin Burnett/Whidbey News-Times

While dreams almost never come true over night, in the world of Habitat for Humanity they are sometimes built in just 20 construction days.

Just ask Oak Harbor resident Kylee Allen and her three children. In just a few weeks, following years of moving from one rental to another, the family will move into a home of their very own. That may seem like no big thing to some, but for the Allens, it’s huge.

“It means everything for our family,” Allen said.

For the kids, it’s more than an end to constant moves. It’s the chance to enjoy a few simple liberties that have always been just out of reach, such as having a dog or painting their rooms a funny color just because they can. To Allen, a single mother struggling to provide for her children, it’s the end of more than three years of doubt, fear and uncertainty.

While a pivotal event for one Whidbey family, this is the 28th home Island County Habitat for Humanities has built since it came to Whidbey Island in 1998. The international nonprofit group is dedicated to providing affordable homes to low income families. Like its parent organization, the Whidbey chapter builds simple and affordable homes at a highly discounted price for qualified applicants at a guaranteed fixed rate.

For example, the Allens are getting their new three-bedroom home at the bargain price of about $100,000, according to Brett D’Antonio, construction manager for the Oak Harbor-based nonprofit. One of the ways the organization is able to build and sell homes at rock-bottom prices is by relying upon all-volunteer construction crews.

This particular home is being built entirely by 16 Whidbey Island Naval Air Station commands. Personnel from the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit, commonly referred to as CNATTU, spent several days working on the home in late October. Members of the command were all too eager to volunteer their time, said Jason Snyder, an aviation maintenance technician for CNATTU.

“We jumped on it,” he said. “It’s a great cause; it’s good for us, our command and our community.”

Others said they enjoyed the sense of accomplishment they got from making a positive and visible contribution. Aviation Electronics Technician Roy Leitch, who also volunteers at Oak Harbor schools, said this was a rare opportunity to actually see the fruits of his labors.

“You can stand back and say, ‘Cool, we did that,’” Leitch said.

Despite a some slightly off angles and a few bent nails, D’Antonio said the sailors were an excellent crew that worked hard and took direction well. Because of that, the house should be completed in just 20 build days, which is pretty quick for this affiliate, he said.

While free labor is one of the most valuable means of providing affordable homes to low income families, it’s only one method in a tool box of cost savers. The group also relies on contributions from its furniture store on SE Pioneer Way, monetary donations, and policies such as “sweat equity,” D’Antonio said.

As part of the deal, Allen is required to put in 250 hours of volunteer service herself. About 100 will be spent working on her home and any others built in the near future. The remainder of the time will be made up working at the furniture store or at the organization’s Oak Harbor administrative offices.

“It’s not a free home,” D’Antonio said. “We’re not just giving it away.”

The investment is also protected from anyone who might seek to turn it around for profit. Saratoga Community Housing, another Whidbey nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable housing in Island County, holds a 99-year lease on the property. If the house were resold, that insures that it would go to another low-income family, D’Antonio said.

For Allen, it’s a very small price to pay. The entire experience, from going through the application process to watching strangers dedicate so much of their personal time to build a home for her family, has been truly humbling. Hopefully, they all know just how important this is to both her children and herself, she said.

“All the kids can talk about is how we don’t have to move again,” she said. “For me, this is a stability I never though we’d have.”

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