Five years ago, Hung Vuong was harvesting coffee beans in Dak Lak Province of Vietnam’s Central Highlands.
On Saturday, he was hacking weeds in the backyard of his new two-story house in South Tacoma.
The house is a windfall for Vuong and his family, made possible by an unusual partnership between Habitat for Humanity and Bank of America.
Bank of America, which has thousands of foreclosed homes on its ledgers, recently joined with Habitat to turn as many as 2,000 “value-distressed” residences across the country into affordable housing by 2014.
Here in Pierce County, the bank donated three foreclosed homes to the local Habitat organization – two in the Central Area and the one the Vuongs will be moving into next month, on South 60th Street.
Habitat, through its program of zero-interest mortgages and “sweat equity,” is making the homes available to families such as the Vuongs, who are struggling to make ends meet.
“This is a new line of work for us,” said Maureen Fife, Executive Director/CEO of Habitat for Humanity Tacoma/Pierce County.
The Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat organization has built 220 new homes in Pierce County, but it’s never done rehabilitation work before, Fife said, except in rare cases in which families move out of Habitat financed homes.
In this case, Habitat is getting significant help from Bank of America employees, many of whom are volunteering their time to work on the donated houses.
On Saturday, a dozen or more bank employees in red T-shirts swarmed like ants over the Vuong property, cleaning, painting, doing carpentry and yard work.
Michael Taggert, Habitat’s renovation manager, directed the volunteers.
“This house was actually in pretty good shape,” Taggert said. “It had a leaking roof and some drywall damage and the deck outside was falling down. Those were the main things.”
Habitat replaced the roof, built a new deck, replaced all the interior doors, resurfaced counters, installed a new heat pump and completely repainted the house, inside and out.
In keeping with Habitat’s sweat equity policy, Hung Vuong, his wife Trang Nguyen and their three children – daughters Tuyen, 13, and Thu, 20, and son Tinh, 25 – are contributing 500 hours of labor to the rehab.
They’ll also contribute around 30 percent of their combined family income each month to a first mortgage.
Hung and Tinh both have jobs sorting recycled materials.
Habitat will hold a second mortgage, which the Voungs will not have to repay unless they sell or move out of the house.
The Vuongs have no intention of doing either.
Tuyen, who speaks the best English, says the family is thrilled to be moving out of their cramped one-bedroom apartment near Tacoma Community College.
English is still largely a mystery to Hung. He speaks in Vietnamese and Tuyen translates.
“He says, ‘In America the conditions are very good,’ ” she said.
Fife says the greater community also will benefit from the partnership.
“Bank of America completely wrote this house off,” she said, “and really, it’s a gift to the larger community.
“It will not only spruce up this house, but it gets a family in it. It’s kind of revitalizing for the whole neighborhood.”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693