Vietnamese man moves into his American Dream — and it has a garage

New homeowner Kiet Ly chats with Family Services Manager Emily Fortman, who helped make his dream possible. Photo by James Tabafunda.

New homeowner Kiet Ly chats with Family Services Manager Emily Fortman, who helped make his dream possible. Photo by James Tabafunda.

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

Kiet Ly smiles a lot these days, knowing that the decision he made to leave Vietnam 10 years ago was the right one.

With the help of Habitat for Humanity of East King County, he is about to become the owner of a three-bedroom, 1,100 square-foot townhouse in Redmond. The house is Built Green Certified by the Master Builders Association. The affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International will hold its next dedication ceremony for 24 houses on June 13.

Ly, 42, heard about Habitat for Humanity from one of its past homeowner partners, filled out an application, and attended one of its orientations. Even though he didn’t qualify at first, he was determined. Soon afterwards, its selection committee picked his family.

Since February 2008, he has spent every Saturday afternoon — for a total of 500 hours — working with AmeriCorps volunteers. “They are very valuable, and they serve in all capacities,” said Emily Fortman, the affiliate’s family services manager.

On July 1, he and his family will move into their new home which also features a two-car garage.
Ly currently lives in a small, one-bedroom Bellevue apartment with his wife Tho, two-year-old daughter Annie, and his mother Mai.

His mother wants him to follow the example of his brother and sister, who are both homeowners in Western Washington. “It’s only me who came to the U.S. later so she wants me to catch up with them,” he said.

Ly and his wife are expecting their second child in July. An American citizen, Ly is also one of four selected to participate in Boeing’s highly sought after apprenticeship program for machinists, which consists of four years of job training, no layoffs, and a guaranteed job with the company.

Ly said, “I told my wife, ‘We’re lucky.’ At the end of 2007, we had our daughter. And at the end of 2009, we’ll have a house and we’re very excited.” He looks forward to having his own backyard and living near a playground for his children to enjoy.

The East King County affiliate of Habitat for Humanity — based in Redmond — is one of 35 affiliates located in the state.

Tom Granger, the executive director, said, “When I started (as a volunteer) in ’98, 17 houses had been constructed in East King County through Habitat, we now are at 98 houses.”

“Habitat for Humanity may be the only provider of affordable housing in East King County. There are some rentals still and some subsidized rental units, but as far as home ownership opportunities, it’s the only thing available for low-income families these days,” he added.

Affordability is very important to the affiliate. It creates mortgage payments that are often less than rental rates in the area.

In exchange for his labor, Ly receives a zero percent interest rate on his mortgage and a home at zero cost to the affiliate.

Habitat for Humanity is a volunteer-driven organization that serves a diverse population of families.

Its mission is “to empower families, build community, and create hope through an aggressive homebuilding ministry,” Fortman said. “We are an ecumenical organization.”

“We do certainly empower families to work and build their own house. This is not a hand out. It’s a hand up (for families). We provide an opportunity for a hard working family to have this success,” said Granger.

In addition to investment and home ownership opportunities, the affiliate provides classes in personal finance and feng shui, as well as volunteer opportunities. “We’re looking for a board that represents the community that we serve, and so, we’re very interested in getting that type of support from the Asian American community as well, in a leadership role,” said Granger. “There’s a great opportunity to be a contributing member of your community.”

In regard to his organization’s ability to survive during the current recession, he said, “Right now, we’re really relying on individuals, and fortunately, they’ve come through. We have scaled back our program a little bit just to be prepared for whatever the economy has in store for us here.”

There are two Asian American families next in line. The affiliate is helping a father who is half Filipino and half white, and a Filipino single mother with three children. “We do have two Japanese families as well,” said Fortman. “We do value diversity quite a bit.”

“Americans open their arms for you,” Ly pointed out about his experience. “You take the opportunity and, like me, work hard without fail.” ♦

For more information about Habitat for Humanity of East King County, visit

James Tabafunda can be reached at

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2 Responses to “Vietnamese man moves into his American Dream — and it has a garage”

  1. Clara Stewart says:

    Emily Fortman is my granddaughter. I am very proud of her dedication to these projects and her personal interest. Habitat for Humanity is such a breath of fresh air to read about , there is so much bad news in these hard times. Keep up the good work. And may God bless you and the people you are helping to get a home.

  2. Great job, James! Thanks for writing such a wonderful and thorough story about Habitat for Humanity of East King County and Kiet Ly.


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