Despite skyrocketing home prices, Bryan Wong, executive director of San Gabriel Valley Habitat for Humanity (sgvhabitat.org), is committed to making affordable housing more accessible. Wong, a San Gabriel Valley native, took on the executive director position in April 2021, drawing on his decades of experience serving on the Board of Education in Monrovia and board of directors for a community bank, and as founder and executive director of the American Homeownership Foundation. Recently, Wong attended SGV Habitat’s home dedication ceremony—the organization’s first in-person dedication since the pandemic began—where multiple families received keys to their new homes.
As executive director of SGV Habitat, what is your current goal?
My goal is to dramatically increase the number of affordable homeownership opportunities in the San Gabriel Valley. The need for affordable housing in the area is overwhelming. Having spent the last 20 years developing, financing, and creating affordable housing opportunities throughout the Midwest and South, I have always wanted to help the community that I grew up in. I sought the executive director position to make the foothills a place where all can afford to live—both first-time homebuyers and longtime residents.
What are some common misconceptions people have about Habitat’s home ownership program?
That we give houses away for free, the homeowners don’t have jobs, Habitat homes will lower the value of the homes in the neighborhood, the homes will look like low-income houses, or the families won’t fit in the community. Happily, none of these myths are true. Instead of receiving a handout, Habitat homeowners help build and buy the home in which they live. They need to qualify for and pay a mortgage. The difference is that we help make it more affordable.
Can you tell us about the “Expanding the American Dream” campaign that launched in early 2021?
The “Expanding the American Dream” campaign is our organization’s comprehensive, three-year, $28 million campaign that will help 100 new families here and abroad build or repair their homes. Seventy families will become homeowners—50 in the San Gabriel Valley, 20 international families in Haiti and the Philippines—and 30 local low-income homeowners will receive critical home repairs.
How do rising home prices throughout the SGV affect the community?
The number of applicants for SGV Habitat homes increased by 250%, with 214 pre-applications in 2020 and 750 in 2021. This number can be dependent on several different factors; however, it still illustrates the growing need for affordable housing in our community. Families must often choose between paying high rental costs just to live in neighborhoods where they grew up or move out of the area altogether. When more working families are displaced, more money is often required to keep the same services running, leading to an even more expensive community.
What are the benefits of providing affordable housing options?
Each time we build here in the San Gabriel Valley, we help build sustainable communities, increase civic engagement, promote diversity, and bolster local businesses. The benefits of affordable housing spread throughout the community and beyond.