Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity

Habitat homeowner, Ruth and one of her daughters.
Habitat homeowner, Ruth and one of her daughters.

“The run is done, we don’t have to run anymore.”

This is the first thing Ruth said when we asked her how it felt to have been selected as the future homeowner for a home in Pioneer Valley Habitat’s development on Glendale Road in Northampton, Massachusetts. What being a future Habitat homeowner means for Ruth is that she’ll spend a year or so building her own home, and then assuming an affordable mortgage to pay for it.

Ruth emigrated to the US from Honduras with her American husband and two daughters in 2014. When her domestic life was upended, she encountered unexpected hardship and instability. Ruth found herself adrift with her children, far from her family and support system. She and her family spent months moving through a series of shelters and temporary living situations in the Boston area.

There were few opportunities for Ruth’s family in Boston. Ruth and her daughters relocated to Western Massachusetts where they found a shelter apartment. Ruth secured regular work in the food service industry and began to take college classes, studying mathematics. “Math is a way to find answers—you can always find answers,” Ruth says.  For Ruth, finding the answers she needs to forge a life of stability and self-reliance for herself and her children is the hallmark of this remarkable and resilient young woman.

Ruth’s future home arrived on a flatbed truck in two pieces, built in a factory in Vermont. Her home, and a second home for another family next to it, represent Pioneer Valley Habitat’s first foray into modular homebuilding, a new effort supported by an Innovation Grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts (CFWM). Ruth is helping Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity pilot a novel approach to constructing affordable houses to discover if it’s a model suitable for further adaptation within Habitat’s volunteer-driven construction arena.

Habitat homeowner Denis and his mom working on his home site.
Habitat homeowner Denis and his mom working on his home site.

Across town, future homeowner Denis is also helping to pilot an innovation in affordable homebuilding: Pioneer Valley Habitat’s first truly “small home” building project! Denis is working alongside dozens of community volunteers to build his 650-square-foot house. During the pre-construction phase, CFWM funding supported research and conversations with stakeholders, including future homeowners with low incomes, to create a blueprint for building a “just big enough” house.

The goal was to “right-size” a housing opportunity for someone earning minimum wage, or slightly more—someone who is otherwise priced out of the local home buying market. The results of a year’s worth of research and development are now coming to fruition with the construction of Denis’ home. Like Ruth, Denis embraces a future characterized by self-sufficiency. “I want to get out in the world on my own,” he says, “Learn new things, start a new chapter in the book, see how life can be. It’s a great feeling, to get a home and start building it from bottom to top.”

Volunteers working on a Denis's small home in Northampton.
Volunteers working on a Denis’s small home in Northampton.

Through inquiry, innovation and experimentation, Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity, along with our partner families and supporters, are expanding opportunities for affordable homeownership in this region. Together we are building strength, stability and self-reliance with our families, in our neighborhoods, for our communities.

Amy Landry is the Director of Resource Development at Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity. Since 1989, Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity has built affordable homes with low income families in Hampshire and Franklin Counties. A CFWM Innovation Grant awardee, which encourages nonprofits to develop and execute novel ideas, Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity is working to make homeownership possible for families in our community. Learn more about Ruth, Denis and Habitat homeownership, here: Photos courtesy of Erin Long Photography, and Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity.