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Villanueva receives national honor for housing work

Going to work for the Diocese of Yakima Housing Services seemed like a natural way for Mario Villanueva to combine two of his passions, construction and faith.

Since 1986 Villanueva has been working with non-profit organizations to provide affordable housing. And in 1999 he went to work for the newly formed Diocese of Yakima Housing Services.

"It's a way to blend a complicated skill with your faith," Villanueva said.

And it's his hard work and dedication to offering affordable housing to families in need that recently earned Villanueva a prestigious honor. On Dec. 10, Villanueva was in Washington, D.C. to be recognized as one of four recipients of the Skip Jason Community Service Award from the Housing Assistance Council.

Villanueva, who was raised in farm worker housing the Lower Valley, has committed his career to developing decent and affordable housing, primarily for the farm worker community of Central Washington. He is the founding director of the Diocese of Yakima Housing Services, which began in 1999 with the purpose of providing farm workers and their families with affordable housing and more importantly, with the support that they need to be successful and contributing members of their communities.

Over the past several years working with the Diocese, Villanueva has helped bring more than 200 affordable housing units to the Yakima Valley. The organization has developed housing projects in Mabton, Granger, Buena, Yakima, Warden, Mattawa and Chelan.

Villanueva noted that not only are the housing units the Diocese brings in affordable for low income families, with rent being based on a percentage of their income, educational opportunities are also brought in for residents. He said education programs include everything from English classes to home buyer programs to adult education.

Villanueva said it's the combination of affordable housing and education that helps balance the lives of the families who live in the units. He said with rent based on a family's income, it suddenly makes saving money a reality for residents. He said it also gives children a safe and quiet place to study and grow up.

And rental units aren't the only housing opportunities offered by the Dioceses. Villanueva said the organization is in the middle of its first home ownership program, which is being implemented in Mabton. He said the Diocese is currently putting all of the infrastructure in place to construct the 22 new houses. He added that the Diocese is still accepting applications for the new program.

Villanueva said he feels the work the Diocese does is important because there are so many people in the area living in horrible conditions, using more than 30 percent of their income to pay for inadequate housing.

"Mario is one of the most committed, hard-working and selfless people I have known," said John Young, executive director of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Yakima. "He has passion for the work and a love for those who benefit from it. Mario does this work because it is needed, and because he feels called to do it."

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