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Archive for September, 2010


24 Sep , 2010

Back in 1988, as we were launching Habitat for Humanity in Lynchburg, Virginia, I met a builder who was eager to help.  In fact, on our very first build day on December 1, he was there with some of his crew helping to build Stella Culpepper’s home.  Tom Gerdy is his name.

As Habitat’s ministry grew in Lynchburg, so did Tom’s involvement.  There was the “Two Houses in 57 Hours” project sponsored by the local Home Builders Association.  Tom led one of the houses building around the clock.  Then there was Leap Day 1996, where we thought, “Wow, an extra day, let’s build an extra house.”  Tom led that project and completed the house in 16 hours.  Then there was a local gentleman who wanted to fully sponsor a house in celebration of his 80th birthday.  We decided to build the entire house on his birthday, July 24, this time in 11 hours.  House leader?  Who else?  Tom Gerdy.

In 1998, Tom and I decided to organize a group to travel to Americus, Georgia, headquarters of Habitat for Humanity to build a house in a week as part of the Easter Morning Build.  Thus began the journey of what has come to be called the “Road Trip Crazies,” a group primarily from Lynchburg (joined now by many who have caught the feeling) that travels regionally to build Habitat houses 2-3 times per year.

The Road Trip Crazies are descending upon Wake County this weekend for our “Framing Frenzy” event in Zebulon to frame up 4 new homes and fully complete the exterior on two.  55 people are coming for this build.  Tom is a skilled carpenter and one of the best I have seen at involving many unskilled volunteers, building at a rapid pace, and ensuring quality…all while treating the volunteers to a rewarding and memorable experience.

In December 2000, Tom and I joined our Lynchburg native and Hollywood resident Randy Wallace for Randy’s “Hollywood for Habitat” project in Los Angeles.   Randy is the screenwriter of the movie Braveheart and other well known screenplays.  When Tom was not helping Bo Derek with her framing skills or bantering back and forth with Robin Williams he led one of the 20 houses that week.

On December 29-31, 1999, I joined Tom in Hilton Head, SC for a Habitat build in conjunction with the annual New Year’s Renaissance weekend gathering of some of the country’s most influential leaders.  On this build Tom met and worked with political columnist, Arianna Huffington.  Since then, Tom has been contributor on the Huffington Post, writing blog entries from time to time.  I think you will see a theme in his writing that basically is, “Let’s stop talking and DO SOMETHING.”  Take a look at Tom’s musings on Huffington Post.

Described as a cross between “Mother Teresa and Jimmy Buffett”, we are excited to host the Road Trip Crazies in Zebulon this weekend.  Our prayer is for a safe and productive weekend, one in which many new volunteers “catch the feeling” that you get more returned to you by living a giving life.  As Randy Wallace so beautifully said, “Habitat for Humanity is a perpetual miracle; everyone who receives, gives; and everyone who gives, receives.  If you want to live complacent and uninspired, stay away from Habitat; come close to Habitat and it will change you, and make you part of something that changes the world.”

17 Sept 10: Hold on Tight

17 Sep , 2010

I was doing my weekday morning I-440 commute about a month ago and listening to a Dave Matthews Band CD and was struck by a lyric in their 1994 song, “The Best of What’s Around”.  The tiny lyric that caught my attention was “hold on tight”.

Times of economic upheaval like we are currently experiencing, call for a look at the underlying assumptions on which we operate and, in a good way, examine what is essential to what we are doing.  What can we let go?  To what must we hold on tight?

Habitat for Humanity’s mission is to eliminate substandard housing from the planet – by providing homes and by raising the collective consciousness such that being forced to live in substandard housing is not acceptable.

In my 22 year involvement with Habitat for Humanity on the local, national, and global levels, I have seen much change.  I personally get energized and encouraged by change – by looking at things in a fresh way and from different perspectives.  But I realize that when I say I like change, the change I really like is the change that I have a part in helping to shape, not the change that is forced upon me.

Many years back, Habitat had a policy not to accept government funding in any way.  Upon examination, we realized that governments were seeking to be partners just as any other entity would and that we should welcome the partnership, given that the acceptance of funds wouldn’t curtail our ability to proclaim the Christian faith from which we operate.  At Habitat Wake we now have strong partnerships with local, state, and federal government entities that we couldn’t imagine doing this work without.

Recently, we looked at our long-held practice of not charging interest to our homebuyers.  When explored more deeply, we realized that the no-interest provision was really all about making homeownership affordable to very low income individuals.  At Habitat Wake, we soon hope to partner with a US Department of Agriculture program that charges a nominal interest rate, but caps the monthly payment to 30% or less of a homebuyer’s monthly income – the home remains affordable to very low income families.  This will allow us to continue to serve more families in the federally-defined rural areas of Wake.

Back to Dave Matthews, there are some things to which Habitat “holds on tight”.  We believe that the best approach to serving the poor is a partnership venture where we work together.  Thus, our “sweat equity” component remains.  And selling the house (not giving it away) remains.  Partnership builds self-esteem and pride and that is a cornerstone of Habitat’s work.  We are a Christian organization and proud that we are.  I’m especially pleased how that Christian heritage plays out in Habitat – in a way that is welcoming and inclusive of those from other faiths and no faith at all – as it should be.

Many families are facing changes related to their living situations right now due to this economic upheaval.  Foreclosure rates are at record highs.  In some parts of Wake County, 1 in 275 homes received a foreclosure filing in August.  In other parts of the U.S., this number is much higher.  This type of change is not welcome.  My heart goes out to families who were enticed to buy a home and given a loan, based on the shaky prospect of steadily increasing home values that weren’t supported by reality.  Just think of the impact on families facing the humiliation of foreclosure and the relocation and school changes that follow.   Foreclosure can have long-term devastating impacts on a family.

In Habitat Wake, over our 25 year history, we are happy to report that over 90% of our original homebuyers are still living in their homes.  Currently, 88% of homebuyers are current on their mortgages and we are working diligently with the others to get current and be successful in their homebuying experience.  Since Habitat is the mortgage holder, Habitat Wake received nearly $1 million last fiscal year in mortgage payments that we are able to invest in current and future home building.  That’s something else to which we hold on tight – a revolving “Fund for Humanity” where donor dollars build a home and those dollars continue to recycle through our program to build more and more homes.

Our prayers go out to those who are facing unwelcome changes due to our current economy.  We stand ready to assist more and more families in need of simple, decent, affordable housing.   We welcome the changes that move us closer to achieving the ultimate vision of decent, affordable housing for everyone.  There is much yet to be done.  Please consider joining in the movement.

3 Sept 2010

3 Sep , 2010

Welcome to our blog!  Our plan for this blog is to provide some insights, from our perspective, into the issues surrounding affordable housing, particularly in Wake County, NC.  We’ll also plan to highlight some of the great work happening around affordable housing in our area and the many organizations out there serving different segments of the need continuum.  And as a Christian housing ministry that is inclusive of others from different faith backgrounds, we’ll plan to write from the viewpoint of a faith-based housing provider and how faith compels us to reach out to our neighbors in need.  Since our mission is so tied to environmental responsibility—from building “green” homes to recycling used building materials through our Restore—we’ll always have something to say about how important it is that “green” practices extend to the nonprofit housing world and does not become just a nice perk for high-end housing.

Recently, Habitat for Humanity was ranked as the 8th largest home builder in the United States for calendar year 2009 by building 5,294 houses with families in need.  This is a great achievement and testimony to all of our dedicated volunteers and donors.  Taken on face value this is great cause for celebration for an organization that funds its construction on the sole generosity of donors and builds with volunteers, many of whom are unskilled at construction.  Looking deeper, however, I’ve wondered: what is it about our system of delivering housing in the U.S. that an organization that operates outside the predominant system is among the nation’s largest builders?

According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, households with severe housing cost burdens (defined as spending more than half their incomes on housing) jumped by a third in 2008 to 16% of all households.  According to the Center’s report, The State of the Nation’s Housing 2010, “a record 18.6 million households faced these high cost burdens that year (2008), an increase of 640,000 since 2007 and 4.7 million since 2001.  Living within these households were 44.2 million Americans, including 13.7 million children.”

…and Habitat for Humanity affiliates and our donors and volunteers built 5,294 homes.  Significant?  Yes.  Adequate?  Far from it.

So I ask myself, why is the U.S. housing production and financing system leaving so many people behind?  Why do people with low-wage, yet essential jobs have difficulty in securing affording housing through the marketplace?  What needs to change in the system so that our society supports a simple, decent, affordable place to live for all of our citizens?  We want to know what you think.

Habitat for Humanity of Wake County
2420 Raleigh Boulevard
Raleigh, NC 27604-2235
Phone 919.833.1999
Fax 919.833.8256
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