Habitat for Humanity

Kittitas County Habitat for Humanity executive director Linda Kelly poses for a photo with book keeper and administration assistant Tammy Tyler, and board member Delano Palmer Friday afternoon outside their office on Main Street.

Kittitas County Habitat for Humanity has a new leader at the helm, and she is excited to get to work.

Linda Kelly joined the organization on Aug. 19 as executive director. Kelly brings 27 years of government experience to the job, having served in various town management positions in Northern California. Most recently, Kelly has volunteered for the last two years on the Literacy Council of Chelan and Douglas counties and with Citizens for Better Transit of Wenatchee.

PATH TO ELLENSBURG

Kelly said she always had a passion for teaching English as a Second Language, as her father was a Hungarian immigrant who came to the United States speaking no English.

“I just remember when I was little, he would tell us the stories about how he started out working on a potato farm in Idaho and learned English from the family he was living with,” she said. “I just knew how empowering helping someone learn English could be.”

Last year, Kelly followed that passion to Central Washington University where she began to undertake graduate work within the school’s English department, while also teaching English 101 to undergraduates.

“I got to know Ellensburg a little bit,” she said. “I just started looking around. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with the program because I was getting anxious to get back into some community work and immerse myself in the community full time.”

Once Kelly learned about the opportunity at Habitat for Humanity, the position brought up memories of when she worked with the organization in Sonoma County while a town manager for the city of Windsor, California. She worked with the organization on the pre-development and planning of a 16-unit affordable housing community. Having that experience in California helped her understand the needs of communities like Ellensburg.

“I think in all the cities I’ve worked in, we were always grappling with the issue of affordable housing,” she said. “It’s tied to into economic development, it’s tied into livability, it’s tied into how we can continue to keep our cities diverse and thriving just as the economy continues to change and grow.”

When she was offered the job in Ellensburg, Kelly said that prior experience working with the organization made it an easy choice.

“They were always great to work for,” she said. “They have a wonderful reputation, and everybody knows what they stand for. I think it’s a cause that everyone can get behind and so it’s something to feel good about when you are working for Habitat.”

Having been on the ground for a month now in her new position, Kelly said she has seen parallels with the challenges Ellensburg faces to what she saw in California when it comes to affordable housing. Looking at the growth rates from the city of Ellensburg’s comprehensive growth plan, she said the number of units needed to meet the population estimates will have to take affordable housing into consideration.

“Certainly, the need outpaces the supply,” she said. “I don’t think market rate development is going to meet the needs of all the different sectors of society that need affordable housing.”

Kelly pointed out that Habitat for Humanity is not in the business of renting; the goal is to provide permanent affordable housing.

“It’s providing a forever home for a household who’s a hard-working family, but just needs the assistance keeping that mortgage affordable,” she said. “We do that through silent seconds and all the donated labor that goes into building each home. What I see in Ellensburg is that there’s definitely a niche and a need for what we provide.”

Along with the work the organization does to get the homes built, Kelly emphasized that the community the homes are located in is just as important in the equation, whether it’s donating goods and materials to the organization’s store or donating time and labor to the building process.

“It’s the community that enables the homes to be built in Habitat’s model,” she said. “We’re kind of the structure that allows people to organize around the mission, but it really is the community. I think we enable the community to rally around the cause of affordable housing in a way no other agency really does.”

GOALS

Looking forward towards the next year, Kelly said her highest priority is to complete a series of grant applications with the city of Ellensburg that are due at the end of September. The grants will provide funds from the recent sales tax increase approved by voters. She said the city also has two properties where they are seeking partnership for affordable housing development.

“Just as important, one of my goals is to cast a wider net for collaboration,” she said. “Building these homes is not a singular agency purpose. We rely on the community’s goodwill, time and labor. One of the things I think we can further mine is the relationships here in Ellensburg.”

As Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization, Kelly said a priority of hers is to increase collaboration with the organization and local churches. She said she sees a lot of potential in these kinds of connections and the benefits they can provide to the community.

“Part of our mission is putting God’s love into action,” she said. “I can’t think of any other tangible way of doing that than putting up four walls and a roof.”

Kelly is also working on collaborating with Ellensburg High School for the organization’s largest fundraiser of the year. The More than Houses Breakfast will take place on Nov. 7, and Kelly said she is working with the school’s arts department on a project that will upcycle materials donated to the organization’s store to create functional art that can be raffled off at the event. She has also proposed to the culinary arts department that the students cater the breakfast.

“We’re really trying to get the young folks involved in this cause and also showcase their talents as well,” she said. “I think so many people believe in the mission and they would just like a chance to be a part of it, and we’d love more segments of the community to be a part of our mission.”

With all the work going into seeking funding and expanding collaboration within the community, Kelly said the goal is to get building and complete another affordable house in Kittitas County.

“We are working towards that through fundraising and trying to be successful in our pursuit of the land grant from the city, or other means of acquiring land,” she said. “It will be a win for the community, not just for the family moving in. Really a win for everyone who contributes to that home build and for the community in general. Everyone will have worked together to enable this family to achieve the American dream of homeownership that they may have not otherwise achieved had it not been for community members standing up.”

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