Building Habitat, and Community in Columbia Falls

This home is one of several townhouses being completed as part of a Habitat for Humanity project in Columbia Falls.

This home is one of several townhouses being completed as part of a Habitat for Humanity project in Columbia Falls.

The city of Columbia Falls sits at the north end of the Flathead Valley. On the north side of town a new neighborhood is being built by homeowners, their families, and volunteers. Habitat for Humanity is working with these families and volunteers on a series of duplexes that 16-families will eventually call home. The subdivision is growing up along a small one-way street across from Plum Creek’s Columbia Falls plant with the Whitefish Mountain Range looming in the background. A few of the town-homes are complete, with bikes on the front porch, and a basketball hoop in the driveway. Across the street scaffolding surrounds another home, and the sound of hammering echoes through the court.

Homeowner Jessie Carr gives a tour of her under-construction home; “this’ll be the kitchen, and then this will be the laundry room, and my office.” Carr said she first heard about homeownership through Habitat for Humanity last spring.

“My daughter brought home a flyer from school, the last week of March, and I called that Monday, and I had a meeting that next week, and within a month we were approved,” Carr said. they’re prepping to move in around the middle of January, less than a year after she first started the process.

“I started packing probably three months ago. Yeah, we’re ready, and we’re so excited,” Carr, her 8-year-old daughter, and 2-boys, 9 and 11-years-old only have to move a couple of blocks out of their current rental, and still within walking distance of school. The family has lived in Columbia Falls since 2005. She works from home as a medical transcriptionist.

Site manager Steve Tartaglino said Habitat for Humanity homes are not “give-aways”.

“Besides having the ability to pay a mortgage which we hold at zero percent for them,” Tartaglino said, “they also have to put in  500 hours of their own time and or family time into the building of their home and helping with the building of the others.”

Tartaglino said at 8-AM any given Wednesday or Saturday, will find volunteers strapping on tool bags and getting to work.

“Any task that it takes to complete the house is what we work on, and weather dictates what we work on sometimes, and the stage of construction we’re at dictates what we work on sometimes, but, generally anybody that’s able and willing to come out and help, we can find a rewarding way for them to help us out,” Tartaglino has been working with Habitat since about the beginning of this Columbia Falls project.

“What’s exciting for me is I’ve gotten to see 4 families move into their homes,” Tartaglino said, “and I get to watch their kids leave and walk to school every morning, and I get to watch them come out of their homes, dressed in their football gear and go to little guy football. So, it’s really rewarding to see what we’re able to do.”

Jessie Carr leads the way up the stairs on a tour of her home, “I’ve got beautiful double windows, I’m so excited about the big, huge open staircase,” light pours in onto the stair way on this cold, cloudy December day, “and this will be the full bath, it’s going to be blue. This is a massive storage, just all storage, it’s going to be all shelves, and I’ve never had storage, so that’s going to be really nice. This will be my two boys, 11 and 9, they’re going to share a room.”

In total the home has 1 and a-half-baths, kitchen, living room, three bedrooms, and closet space.

“This will be my daughters room, she’s 8, and it’s going to be pink, of course,” Carr said before getting involved with building her own home, she had only limited construction experience.

“My dad has helped build things, so I’ve assisted, kind of, and I’ve put roofs on, but nothing this massive, huge, and I have learned so much,” Carr said, “I was afraid of power tools, and now I’m using saws.”

Tartaglino says many of the homeowners come on board with similar fears, “they quickly realize how capable they actually are, and how much they actually can do, and it’s nice to watch them go through this growth process, and of course that is going to help them to be good homeowners when it comes to maintaining their homes, and then doing the things that responsible homeowners need to do to maintain their property.”

On this day members from the local bank Parkside Credit Union are pitching in, and Tartaglino says they have volunteers from many other businesses, banks, real estate offices, schools, sports groups, and just individuals interested in helping out.

During lunch break he talks to the group about Habitat’s goal internationally, and locally of eliminating “substandard” housing “and that can be anything from actually living in housing that would be deemed unsafe, living in housing that is overcrowded; in other words, too large a family for too small a space, and also factored into that could be a situation where too much of their income is going into their housing expense,” Tartaglino said.

They’re taking a break from volunteer construction days until after the holidays. But Wednesday January 2nd volunteers will be back at it.

Carr says this move allows her family grow a little bit, “we’re getting a cat, our first cat.”



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