Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Partners Dennis Larrañaga and Iesha Barela have been together 10 years. They and their 7-year-old daughter, Eternity, who is blind, have never owned their own home. That’s about to change.
Iesha, 26, who said she is nine years clean from drugs, has lived a difficult life.
“My family has always been very poor, on Section 8 (subsidized housing) and food stamps,” she said. “My family was homeless at times.”
Now the Larrañaga-Barela family are successful applicants for one of two Santa Fe Habitat for Humanity homes being built this week outside Santa Fe.
“It’s going to become our first one (home),” said Larrañaga, 29. “I can’t wait, I’m very excited.” The couple plans to marry next year.
Barela shares that joy. “I’m the first one in my family to become a homeowner,” she said. “It’s an amazing blessing, and I’m very, very grateful.”
Theirs was not the only celebration at the job site this week.
Volunteer Elmer Leslie celebrated his 83rd birthday in typical and perhaps also atypical fashion.
“I built walls out here, and then I went home and had pizza and beer with my son,” Leslie said.
“Out here” means numbers 8 and 12, Blue Feather Road in Oshara Village, where the spry octogenarian was part of a crew of a few dozen volunteers and professionals building the Habitat homes. Leslie, from Santa Fe, has helped build Habitat homes for the past 20 years and hopes to continue “as long as I can until I get to the point where I feel I’m not being able to really help.”
The young got in on the building. Terri Strauss, academic and vocational leader with the Rio Arriba Youthbuild Project in Española, brought eight young men and women for the day. Some are working for their GED diplomas or to get building experience for a career.
The weeklong effort is a collaborative project between several national organizations who volunteer their efforts with Habitat for Humanity International to showcase building with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) that utilize poured concrete for the homes’ walls. Local companies Los Alamos Transit Mix and Española Transit Mix are donating the concrete and Chavez Concrete Pumping of Albuquerque is donating its equipment and manpower to pump the concrete into the walls.
The ICF method derived from an “aha” moment in the 1960s when a Canadian building contractor realized that a plastic cooler on the beach could be morphed into foam plastic materials to reduce building costs, according to the Insulating Concrete Forms magazine.
The Habitat workers fitted together the recyclable, non-combustible ICFs that are then stuffed with rebar and later filled with cement.
The construction method is almost toy-like in its simplicity.
“Basically they snap together not unlike Legos and once they are in place and braced they are ready to have concrete poured into the cavity,” said Gregg Lewis, executive vice president of the Virginia-based National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. “When that sets up you have a complete structural wall system,” said Lewis.
“Our members are the concrete producers that actually deliver the concrete to the project sites across the United States,” he said.
The Concrete Association is helping build 15 Habitat houses across the country this year with plans to build 50 in every state over five years.
The two Santa Fe homes are averaging about 40 volunteers a day, said Rob Lochner, construction director for Santa Fe Habitat, which builds about six or seven homes a year here. Lochner realizes they are not going to solve the city’s affordable housing issue, “but we do our part,” he added.
The organization targets those in lower income brackets and they’ve had situations with “six families in a home and they were living in sub-standard living (conditions) previously and it’s also going to take a financial burden off of them,” Lochner said.
Santa Fe Habitat selects six or seven families or individuals a year from over 100 applications.
“The families are selected based on need,” said Marilyn Perryman, Santa Fe Habitat’s director of development and marketing. Individuals also may be eligible.
Applicants need to have lived or worked in Santa Fe or Santa Fe County for over a year. “A couple has to put in about 550 of sweat equity hours” working to construct the home they will live in, Perryman said.
The benefits of a new home extend beyond just a roof over their heads.
“They are hopefully going to be able to save up, have some expendable income and not be living paycheck to paycheck,” Lochner said.
“That will also give them a secure place to live, a safe place, the kids will hopefully be able to study better, do better in school and it’s shown that over the years that that’s the case and they get to plan a little bit for the future,” Lochner said.
Greater Albuquerque Habitat for Humanity was in line for last week’s coalition effort with the national concrete organizations but was still securing the land, said Pete Hosenfeld, construction coordinator for the Albuquerque Habitat.
Three pieces of land throughout the city are expected to be acquired with plans to build 25 homes with the first breaking ground in January or February, said Hosenfeld. About 20 Albuquerque volunteers were at the Santa Fe site last week.
“We are here learning how to build and install the ICF foundation system,” said Hosenfeld.
“It’s fun. You watch videos online how to do it and you come out here and there is always a difference and you learn to meld the two,” he said.
Like Santa Fe, the affordable housing need is great in Albuquerque. “The median rental range recently went from $1,300 to almost $1,900 for a two bedroom rental,” said Hosenfeld. He knows the last 22 clients Habitat has housed in the city.
“They are all hard working members of the city; there are at least three that work for APS schools, there’s one that works for Costco part-time … all different walks of life.”
The Ready Mixed Concrete Association and their partners, the Insulating Concrete Forms Manufacturers Association, the American Concrete Pumping Association and BuildBlock, have a vested interest in building with ready mixed concrete.
“The value comes down to not only first cost, where it’s cost competitive with traditional frame construction … you get an extremely energy efficient structure that goes up very quickly and makes for a very quiet home and a very comfortable home from a thermal standpoint,” said Lewis. The concrete will be poured Friday with the roofing set for Monday.
The Barela-Larrañaga family can’t wait for their Santa Fe housewarming.
“It seems like it’s going to a great place,” said Larrañaga. “It’s a nice neighborhood.”