Both South Puget Sound Community College and the local non-profit HomesFirst are focused on changing lives, and this time they’re doing it together. The partnership will help others learn, grow, and succeed.

Mike Murphy is a fixture of the SPSCC drafting program, teaching for almost 30 years. Each fall new students arrive eager to earn their computer aided drafting (CAD) degree or just to dip their hands into the drafting field. “This skill can transfer to a lot of different places and opportunities,” Murphy says as he explains the program.

And that’s exactly what Murphy hopes will happen with his partnership with HomesFirst.

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Professor Mike Murphy instructs his students out of SPSCC’s Building 23 in computer aided drafting.

Matt Newton, one of Murphy’s former students, is now the Project and Asset Manager at HomesFirst. Newton first approached SPSCC about partnering together on a new project.

HomesFirst’s Community Impact

HomesFirst is a 25-year-old local non-profit organization that buys, rehabs, and builds homes for people who need a helping hand, including adults with disabilities, veterans, low-income families, or people taking the next step toward sober living. And Newton tells me it doesn’t just stop with the homes. “We provide more assistance than your normal landlord,” he says. This includes support from many other organizations in the community to help ensure success.

HomesFirst is proud of the two-percent vacancy rate but mentions a two-year waiting list for their properties. With that kind of need in Thurston County, Newton says HomesFirst is always on the look out for new properties. However, the organization is limited by resources and today’s sellers market. Being a non-profit organization, HomesFirst doesn’t have the kind of resources of a typical homebuyer. As a result, they often purchase less desirable properties.

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Matt Newton is the Project and Asset Manager for the local non-profit organization HomesFirst. Photo courtesy: HomesFirst.

“We typically get properties that other people don’t want,” Newton says. But with a lot of hard work and countless hours, HomesFirst can turn those places into new homes and new opportunities for people. The goal is to create a home that fits the neighborhood. “Our houses are right next to market rate houses. We want our houses to fit into the community,” he says.

SPSCC Students Earn Hands-On Experience

Looping back to the connection with Murphy and SPSCC, HomesFirst is currently working on purchasing a large vacant property, improving the existing home and then possibly adding additional homes and/or accessory dwelling units on the property.  The additional units would be a one-bedroom, universally designed home for a single person, which can fit any need. “We’re not talking about little tiny huts or cabins, it’s a house,” Newton says as he shows me some ideas.

“There is a lot of technology we want to put into these but we also want to make them as cost effective as possible.” He hopes to include solar panels, super insulation, and many other energy efficient features.

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This sketch will be shown to students to generate ideas, but HomesFirst wants the actual designs to be original.

And the students who will design these homes don’t even know about it yet. This fall Murphy will introduce his second year students to the partnership and in turn they will complete the design work for HomesFirst as part of the program.

Murphy says this will not be the first time his SPSCC students have participated in something like this. “I always like to do real world stuff as opposed to classroom stuff,” he says. “The employer is not as interested in a GPA as they are in a portfolio.”

While the students are gaining hands-on experience designing real properties, HomesFirst hopes to strengthen ties in the community. “What we’re going to be getting is just so much more above and beyond just the construction documents,” Newton says. He hopes this project will lead to more collaboration in the future while raising awareness for the organization at the same time. In the end it’s a win for everyone in the community.

To learn more about SPSCC’s computer aided drafting program, click here. Information about HomesFirst can be found here.


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