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Getting Housing on the Agenda

Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford speaks with Rep. John Lewis during Habitat on the Hill 2009.

By Dan Petrie, Habitat for Humanity International’s associate director of Congressional relations

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Foreign Assistance Act, legislation which continues to govern how the United States interacts with partners abroad. Fifty years ago, the Cold War was also in full swing and Ray Charles was belting out “Hit the Road Jack.” 

Times have changed, and calls to reform foreign aid have been mounting. Howard Berman, the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led Congress’ efforts for years, and Rep. Gerry Connolly has since taken up the torch. At the end of April, Connolly introduced the Global Partnership Act of 2013, a complete rewrite of the Foreign Assistance Act. Though the bill’s prospects are dim in a partisan Washington, it provides a solid blueprint and a way forward. 

The bill specifically calls for increased access to adequate housing, something sorely missing from the U.S’s current development agenda. More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and by 2050, that number will grow to 70 percent. As urban centers have grown, so too have slums. This trend will affect poverty alleviation, economic growth and public health for years to come. 

Recognizing this, Civil Rights icon and Presidential Medal of Freedom awardee Rep. John Lewis recently circulated a letter encouraging Secretary of State John Kerry to make housing a priority during his tenure. More than a dozen members joined the request, noting the catalytic effect housing can have in a community and the interconnectedness between housing and other social and economic priorities. 

If organizations like Habitat can effect lasting change, we must convince others to look at the rapidly changing world differently and make the case for reforms. Learn more about Habitat’s advocacy here.