Patterson recognized affordable-housing need

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Back in 1980, Bob Patterson thought he was retiring.

After more than 30 years in public education, Patterson had settled down in the Snoqualmie Valley he'd grown up in and built a home on a lot outside of Carnation.

But he soon realized he was lucky to afford a home in the Snoqualmie Valley. Even then, the lack of affordable housing was a problem, and Patterson, with some free time on his hands, thought he should do something about it.

"Even then you could see most houses being built were not affordable," he said. "Housing is the key to getting people to become effective members of a community."

Patterson discussed the problem with some friends, who told him about a small non-profit organization in Georgia called Habitat for Humanity. When they looked into Habitat in 1986, they realized the organization had only one branch on the entire West Coast, located in Sacramento, Calif.

They invited the executive director from Sacramento to visit, and the small group of townspeople was told it would have to raise $3,000 in order to form a Habitat branch.

"We spent a long time raising just $3,000," Patterson said. "We just talked to people about the need. We need to get people aware of the larger picture."

The money was raised and the small group was christened Habitat for Humanity of Snoqualmie Valley. The group was formal, but there was still plenty of work ahead in order to start actually building houses. Money was raised slowly, and construction was done by a small group of semi-skilled workers. They went to work on building a house right outside of Carnation in 1988, a project that would take nine months to complete.

Among one of the first to become involved with the early stages of Habitat was Jerry Rettig of Woodinville. Rettig had met Patterson while the two ran as Democrats for seats in the Washington Legislature in the early 1980s. Although both lost their respective races, they found they saw eye-to-eye on a number of issues and started talking about the housing difficulties in the Valley.

Rettig had helped out at a Habitat build in Yakima, and was asked by Patterson to come to the new Habitat branch in Lower Valley. He said Patterson's leadership was crucial to the fledging organization's success.

"We were a pretty small group," Rettig said. "There were times when we didn't know where we going to get any of the money we needed. But Patterson told us to have faith, and if we had that, what we needed would come. That was our mantra."

The group continued a slow but steady growth, building houses, one by one, in Bellevue, Kirkland and Issaquah. Each time, the Habitat chapter would get more volunteers and more capital. Members knew they needed to expand their reach.

"We had to make this bigger than Snoqualmie Valley," Rettig said. "Bob was the primary guy, speaking at all the clubs, churches and Rotaries, trying to get support."

The group decided to encompass the whole Eastside and was renamed Habitat for Humanity of East King County. It set up a permanent office in Redmond in the winter of 1990. Rettig said the Habitat branch really moved forward in its mission in when it received a grant from ARCH A Regional Coalition for Housing, or ARCH, to build townhouses near Overlake Park in Bellevue in 1993. Habitat volunteers built the townhouses in three years instead of the five originally thought needed, thereby gaining even more notoriety.

Since then, the branch has grown by leaps and bounds. Patterson said Habitat for Humanity of East King County's growth projections and goals were met quickly. The organization has built houses all over the Eastside, as well as 40 houses outside of the United States.

The small group that first met in Carnation have seen a lot happen under the leadership of Patterson, and those who have worked with him are quick to give credit where credit is due.

"I think he is a fantastic person," said Habitat for Humanity of East King County Executive Director David McDaniels. "He obviously has housing as a key concern, and among his peers, he helps to bring us credibility."

Twenty years after he thought he was first retiring, Patterson is now busier than ever. He left his position on the board of directors for Lake Washington Technical College to become mayor of Carnation.

"I wanted to do something more local," Patterson said.

While walking around the Snoqualmie Ridge site last week, he noted raising that starting $3,000 would be a drop in the bucket when compared to funding a project as big as this summer's blitz build. But he knows now that even the biggest projects start out with the smallest of ideas.

When asked what his vision was for the original Habitat for Humanity of Snoqualmie Valley, he responded, quite pleased, "Just what it is, I guess."

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