News and Tribune

Columns

July 2, 2014

STEVENS: Habitat looks to break cycle of poverty

— In his June 25 News and Tribune guest column, New Albany City Councilman John Gonder speculated on the potential fate of an old tavern building at 922 Culbertson Ave.  Mr. Gonder stated that he has “heard that in place of the old tavern will be several newly designed versions of Habitat for Humanity houses.”  He went on to say, “the houses they [Habitat] have designed for New Albany leave much to be desired.” Finally, he asserts that, “The placement and design of the houses does nothing to help the city escape the stigmatizing of certain parts of town as underprivileged, less desirable neighborhoods, and, therefore, does not break the cycle of  . . . poverty for the residents of those neighborhoods . . . [I]f the Habitat solution is chosen, we seem intent on making sure that this depressed neighborhood stays more depressed and looks the part.”

First, the notion that there exists any sort of plan for Habitat homes at 922 Culbertson is simply not true. Whatever the origin of that speculation, Habitat has not pursued any interest in this property, nor have we been approached by the city or any other party regarding the redevelopment of that property. That inaccuracy aside, what is more troubling is that the comments reveal the persistence of the unfortunate misconception that the Habitat houses somehow detract from the vibrancy of a neighborhood or even perpetuate poverty or the appearance of it. Quite the opposite, Habitat seeks to break the cycle of poverty and build lives and communities through volunteerism and homeownership. Simply put, we seek to be part of the solution in underserved neighborhoods and among disadvantaged populations, not to contribute to the problem.

While disappointed by the statements in the column, I am grateful for the opportunity to educate the community about the mission and work of Habitat and to help dispel some common “Habi-myths.” The mission statement of Habitat for Humanity International, and all of its more than 1,500 U.S. affiliate organizations is, “Seeking to put God’s love into action, Habitat for Humanity brings people together to build homes, communities, and hope.”  Our global vision is “A world where everyone has a decent place to live.” Habitat is an ecumenical Christian ministry and is an Equal Housing Opportunity agency. To our homeowners, Habitat is an opportunity to access the stability and advantages of homeownership which would otherwise be out of reach. To our volunteers, Habitat is a chance to serve others in a way that has lasting and life-changing effect.

Contrary to popular perception, Habitat does not give houses away. Habitat homes are actually sold to homeowners on no-interest mortgages at a price reflecting the actual costs put into the house. Proceeds from mortgage payments are used to construct more homes. To be eligible for the Habitat opportunity, homebuyers go through a rigorous and highly selective application process, and once selected, homebuyers invest hundreds of hours of “sweat equity” toward the purchase of their home. The goals of sweat equity are to foster partnership, pride in homeownership, and development of skills and knowledge.  The hours come mostly from financial education, community volunteer work and construction on their own home as well as other Habitat homes. The sweat equity requirements and the “pay it forward” nature of Habitat’s model mean that Habitat homeowners are uniquely invested in the homes and neighborhoods where they live.

Another common and unfortunate misconception highlighted in the column is that Habitat homes are unattractive or cheap.  Our mantra at Habitat is that we provide “simple, decent, affordable housing.” It is true that it is not Habitat’s first priority to produce shining examples of magazine-worthy architecture, but rather to construct well-built energy-efficient homes that will serve homeowners well for years to come. We do, however, endeavor to be good neighbors in the areas where we build. For example, we recently incorporated exterior design changes into our current construction to ensure they will be a welcome addition to the historic neighborhood where they are located. In the coming year, we hope to become more strategic and purposeful in how we select and acquire sites for construction, and to continue to design conscientiously and sustainable. We will also be exploring the possibility of rehabilitating more existing houses, and plan to add home repair programs to our repertoire of services.

Habitat desperately needs the support of the community to continue and to grow its ministry in Southern Indiana. Public confidence in our work is critical to our success in eliminating poverty housing in our own community and on a global scale. I invite you to get to know us and learn about the work we’re doing. Come volunteer on our construction site, attend an event, or donate to our local affiliate. Visit us at www.newalbanyhfh.org and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/newalbanyhfh.  Together, we really can eliminate poverty housing and create a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

— Andrea Stevens is executive director of the New Albany/Floyd County Habitat for Humanity.

 

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