History was made in Houston June 14-20 when 1,500 Habitat for Humanity volunteers from around the world joined 4,500 Houstonians to build 100 homes in a week during the 1998 Jimmy Carter Work Project.

"I've never been to a Habitat work camp that I didn't weep," says former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. "But the tears were of emotion and joy, with an almost unique experience of compassion, understanding, friendship, partnership, and love. There's an element of equality that is engendered by noon Monday between the home-owning family and the visitors who came from around the world. So you're destined in Houston to see a miracle, one that you'll never forget."

This was the 15th consecutive year that the former U.S. president and his wife, Rosalynn, have committed a week to building Habitat houses alongside the homeowner partners and other volunteers from around the world. The 1997 JCWP was in Kentucky and Tennessee; next year's will build in the Philippines.

The 100 JCWP '98 houses were constructed at four inner-city sites. Three are in Fifth Ward, Houston's lowest-income neighborhood, where three out of five residents live below the poverty line. The remaining 40 houses were constructed in the Magnolia Park area near the Port of Houston.

"As the fourth largest city [in the U.S.], Houston has a serious need for housing," says Mike Shirl, executive director of Houston HFH. "It needs help, not only because of its population [1.7 million], but also because... Houston's housing needs are fairly hidden because of its sprawl [nearly 600 square miles.]"

Home to more than 180,000 families living in poverty, the city is well acquainted with deficits in affordable housing. Officially, some 72,000 housing units are overcrowded, and more than 15 percent of all housing units--some 95,000--have moderate to severe physical deficiencies. Moreover, Houston, a city where 150,000 people are considered "marginally" homeless, has a waiting list of more than 9,000 families for public housing.

While this summer's JCWP helped address such shortfalls, the symbolic value of a high-profile, partnership-oriented undertaking was invaluable, points out Shirl. The project provided "an opportunity to raise awareness of the need for more affordable housing in this area to a level we could not otherwise get," he says. "The project itself is one that is visible, literally, to millions of people."

That cause--and the effect of Habitat's efforts--is heartily acknowledged by former Mayor Bob Lanier, honorary JCWP chairman. "The work being done by Habitat for Humanity is an important part of our goal to bring affordable housing to those who need it," says Lanier.

Habitat for Humanity homeowners are selected on the basis of need, ability to repay a no-interest mortgage, and willingness to partner in Habitat for Humanity's home-building efforts. The houses built during this year's JCWP are being purchased by the homeowners for $43,000-$46,000, with payments made affordable by a no-interest, 15- to 30-year mortgage. Houston Habitat homeowners also are required to contribute 300 hours of "sweat equity," helping build their home or community.

"We at Habitat for Humanity believe that everyone should have a decent and safe place to live," said Millard Fuller, founder and president of Habitat for Humanity International. "Our goal is to help people achieve all that God intended for them, through the power of homeownership."

Go with us to the Jimmy Carter Work Project--without ever leaving home! Read Habitat for Humanity's daily updates from the JCWP, featuring photos from home-building sites and interviews with participants from around the world.

This year's 100 JCWP houses were built at four different inner-city sites, including the Magnolia Park area near the Port of Houston, pictured above. (Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Partnership.)

JCWP Daily Updates:

1999 JCWP -- 293 Roofs Raised in the Philippines
1998 JCWP -- 100 Houses in Houston, Texas
1997 JCWP -- Hammering in the Hills of Appalachia

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