Endalkachew Haile family -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Endalkachew Haile family


Endalkachew Haile and his wife, Dagmawit Belete, have been paying nearly $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom, vermin-infested apartment in Washington, D.C. But soon they will move into a new Habitat home with their baby son, Tinsae.

©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein


‘Owning a house is very important’

Endalkachew Haile and his wife, Dagmawit Belete, came to Washington, D.C., three years ago, hoping to find a better life in America than in their native Ethiopia. In October, one investment in their American dream will become real, as construction begins on their home in Ivy City.

Haile, 34, is an airport baggage handler, and Belete, 32, is a cashier at Whole Foods. Until their house is built, the two will continue to share a small one-bedroom apartment in northwest Washington with their infant son, Tinsae.

For nine months, they have been paying nearly $1,000 a month in rent for this vermin-infested apartment with faulty electrical wiring, a leaky window-unit air conditioner and a radiator that doesn’t work.

“Owning a house is very important,” Haile said. “This place is not comfortable.”

In the summer, the whole family often sleeps in the living room—the only air-conditioned place in the apartment. And in the winter, the bathroom is the only warm room, Haile said.

Beyond the basic lack of comfort, the apartment poses serious health risks. Haile cites problems ranging from leaky pipes and faulty plumbing to cockroaches and rats.

“Sometimes we don’t have electrical power,” Belete added. “And there are thieves in the neighborhood.”

The sparsely furnished, bright white apartment is immaculate, but Belete’s frustration is obvious at the limits of good housekeeping in a substandard building.

Haile goes to a kitchen cabinet to retrieve one of Tinsae’s nursing bottles, demonstrating how the nipple of one had been chewed by rodents.

“That is not good,” he said solemnly. “This is not a place for a baby.”

The family’s new Habitat home—a far better place for a baby—is being built as part of the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, which will result in six new houses and six rehabbed homes in the working-class community of Ivy City.