Advancing the conversation

By Neil Hetherington, incoming CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City

Editor’s note: This week, more than 250 Habitat leaders and supporters gathered in Washington, D.C., for Habitat on the Hill, Habitat’s annual legislative conference. Incoming Habitat New York City CEO Neil Hetherington was among them and shares his thoughts.

I arrived at Habitat on the Hill as a volunteer and incoming CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City. For more than 12 years, I have held a similar post at the Toronto affiliate.

I had several reasons why I had a sense of nervousness leaving my home city yesterday to take this new post. Residents of New York City have dealt with the systemic challenges of building good housing affordably for years. On top of that challenge, the horrors of Superstorm Sandy have weighed in. It simply isn’t straightforward building in one of the world’s finest cities.

A dedicated army of volunteers and staff have done more, however, than provide bricks and mortar to advance the needs of New Yorkers. Through dialogue and conversations, the organization has ensured that affordable housing issues are raised to a broad audience and to public officials. More importantly, simple housing solutions have seen positive outcomes in the areas of health, education, neighborhood developments and community building.

At times, the conversation about affordable housing can be a difficult one. There are regulatory considerations, market concerns and funding challenges. Indeed, even those in public office that see the benefits and moral imperative of good, affordable housing recognize that we sit squarely between the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling.

The simple truth that every man, woman and child deserves to live in a simple, decent and affordable home has been the vision of this organization since 1976. Importantly, it has always been done as a partnership, not as a parachuted gift. We do what we do at Habitat for Humanity not because we THINK some families are disadvantaged, but rather because we KNOW that they are equal.

That is the sentiment and mindset of this global movement. It spans state and national borders and compels us each to act. As a result, I have been pleased to see the positive reception here in Washington. It is the reason that I know serving Habitat is a calling for me and makes the journey to New York City somewhat easier.