Johnson, Habitat building a better future

Filed under: One on One |

Paul Johnson knows there’s no place like home.

As executive director for Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity, he searches for land where volunteers can use hard work, hammers and nails to mete out homes for low-income families.

He also oversees the search for funding, as well as project development, monitoring the building and permit process, and acts as a developer for a nonprofit organization that works to make the American dream more affordable.

Johnson took time recently to tell CSBJ about himself and his business.

Organization: Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity

Position: Executive director

Hometown: Flint, Mich.

How long have you lived in Colorado Springs: Nine years. Prior to moving here my wife and I spent 15 years in San Francisco.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from California State University Hayward. Master’s degree in health service administration from St Mary’s College, Moraga, Calif.

A few words about your company: Pikes Peak Habitat for Humanity, an affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, was started in Colorado Springs in 1986. We use volunteers to build homes for very low-income families who do not qualify for traditional mortgages. We sell our homes to deserving families at no profit and with a no interest mortgage. To date we have built 66 homes and have five homes under construction.

Recent accomplishments: The completion and celebration of our Mill Street restoration project on April 30. Over a three year period, we built 17 new affordable homes in this historic neighborhood. The neighborhood changed from a neglected one to a vibrant one by adding homeowners instead of renters. The neighborhood also went from having two children when we started to more than 50 when we finished.

Biggest career break: Moving from San Francisco to Colorado Springs, which allowed me to change careers from hospital administration to being the executive director of Habitat. During the past eight years, I have been able to get back to helping people on a one-on-one basis and once again gain that passion that comes from helping very deserving families to escape poverty.

The toughest part of your job: Figuring out how to find or develop land for building, locally raising the necessary funds to complete the homes and seeing that our partner families complete their "sweat equity" so that they can move into their new homes.

Someone you admire: I admire Jimmy Carter. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with his politics, in my opinion he has done more to help mankind than most presidents. Through the Carter Foundation in Atlanta and with his involvement as spokesperson for Habitat, he has raised the awareness regarding poverty housing and has put his faith into action by picking up a hammer and actually building houses.

About your family: Wife, Penny; married daughter, Melissa (30) and husband Jan; son Matt (28).

Something else you’d like to accomplish: I would like to go to Tahiti.

How your business will change in the next decade: During the next 10 years, affordable buildable land will be harder and harder to find here in Colorado Springs. I believe that we will either have to build farther east or south in other areas of the county in order to find affordable home sites. In addition, I feel that we will have to change our product from single-family detached homes to duet townhomes with a common wall in the middle. Finally, if land prices continue to escalate, we will have to work with a land trust to lease the land allowing our homeowners to purchase the home and not the land, therefore allowing the homes to be affordable.

What book are you currently reading? "Tales from Margaritaville" by Jimmy Buffett, which my daughter gave to me for Father’s Day.

What is the one thing you would change about Colorado Springs? I would like to see the traffic situation improve. We need better east and west access, and we need a loop freeway to the east of Powers like 470 around Denver.