The Publication of Habitat for Humanity International

Habitat World

Why We Build



Habitat builds because decent, affordable housing creates stronger communities.

Our efforts break down barriers and establish — and, in some cases, help reestablish — vibrant neighborhoods. Families in Habitat houses have strong foundations to build upon, foundations that strengthen the communities in which we reside.

When we work together, that physical community takes shape, but a spiritual one does, too. It’s a result of volunteers, families and partners from all walks of life coming together to build homes — and hope.

We Build Back Neighborhoods.

Habitat plays a large role in the restoration of a historic five blocks in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The Wealthy Heights Partnership Project is quite unlike anything Michigan’s Habitat for Humanity of Kent County has ever done. The tiny neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood had been mostly abandoned for decades, but in 2009, the five-block area turned out to be in the right place at the right time.

Habitat Kent and the city of Grand Rapids were making plans to collaborate on rehab and renovation projects via the Neighborhood Stabilization Project. Around the same time, a nonprofit housing manager asked Habitat for help with some houses in Wealthy Heights, which happened to be in the heart of the NSP target zone.

The area presented challenges — narrow, dead end streets with little to no access for city services, a historic status governing all rehabs and new construction — but the affiliate was determined.“A lot of good work was happening,” says Chris Hall, Habitat Kent’s director of strategic initiatives. “We saw that if Habitat didn’t take it on, the homes would fall down on themselves, and the neighborhood would be hurt. If not us, who? If not now, when?”

It makes you feel good when they actually want to be there, and it means something to them.

The overall project includes road and sewer improvements, some new construction, and the rehabilitation, repair and weatherization of existing homes to make them energy efficient. The list of partners in the project has grown to a dozen. After so many years of falling apart, Wealthy Heights is finally coming back together.

“It’s amazing. Some of our homebuyers choosing a home, they love this neighborhood. They want it!” says Habitat Kent’s director of construction operations Connie O’Toole. “It makes you feel good when they actually want to be there, and it means something to them.” -Megan Frank

Learn more about Wealthy Heights.

Wealthy Heights Site Plan

Click on numbers to learn more about each location

Former site of Freyling & Mendels Nursery
1 2 3 4 5
Images Courtesy Habitat Kent County

A House, A Home

The little house on Donald Place exemplifies Habitat Kent County’s work in Wealthy Heights.

When Habitat for Humanity Kent County came into its life, the little two-story house was a sad thing in need of rescue. It sat abandoned, uncared for and slowly crumbling for 30-plus years. The only people it hosted were those who broke in seeking shelter from the cold. Still, the 120-year-old home stood, valiantly holding itself together and waiting. In 2010, the wait paid off.

The house on Donald Place has the privilege of being the first home Habitat Kent rehabbed in Wealthy Heights. All aspects of the house’s makeover were planned and discussed with the city, the Historical Preservation Commission and the State Historical Preservation Office before anyone picked up a hammer. Every detail had to be approved, down to where vents could be placed and what color paint could be used.

Because the house had fire damage, the Historical Preservation Commission allowed the wood siding to be removed. However, it could not be replaced with Habitat’s preferred vinyl siding, which didn't meet the commission’s standards. Not wanting to saddle new homeowners with the regular maintenance required by wood siding, Habitat created a new exterior of fiber cement siding. Now, the house appears to be wearing wood, but it’s much better protected against the sometimes harsh weather conditions of western Michigan. Also protected is the back porch, which previously lacked a covering. Volunteers built one to match the gable of the existing roof, a charming addition that looks as though it’s always been there.

Stepping inside the house, you may notice unusually deep window sills and doorframes, the result of a creative and industrious workaround by a Habitat affiliate determined to properly seal and insulate the house. The affiliate’s preferred foam insulation could not be sprayed inside the walls, as it would stick to the original historic framework. So the house got a new interior wall all the way around that could be sprayed with the insulation required for maximum energy efficiency.

The house’s windows are long and narrow, especially in one of the former upstairs bedrooms. This doesn’t comply with modern building codes, which require bedrooms to have a window large enough for access by emergency personnel. Since preservation guidelines prohibit changes to windows and doors, the master bedroom is now on the first floor and upstairs has office space.

The house is so much happier these days. Certified LEED Gold, it is warm in the Michigan winters and cool in the summer. Its bravery — and success — in being Habitat Kent’s first drastic rehab no doubt provides hope and reassurance for the many other houses still awaiting rescue. It’s a lovely home, with cheerful colors and sturdy walls to welcome Habitat homeowners David Atem, his wife Truphosah and their children, Alakiir, Joseph and Naima. For David, who fled Sudan in 1991 and lived as a refugee in Uganda and Kenya before coming to the United States in 2000, it’s a chance to give his kids the safe childhood he never had.

They are as happy to have Donald Place as it is to have them. “There are a lot of things that we can do now as family,” David says. “Simply, we can now sit around the dinner table as one family, pray together and eat together.”

A vital part of the renewed neighborhood, the house provides water to the community garden now thriving next door. Upstairs, the office overlooks that garden, and in the afternoon, the sun comes in through a long, narrow window. -Megan Frank

We Build Bridges.

One of the greatest things about Habitat’s work can be the chance to share the experience with others. Habitat volunteer Inga Carmack has found a creative way to help her family grasp just what Grandma going on a Global Village trip really means.

For years, the Washington state resident took photos at family gatherings and used an online service to create little books for her five grandchildren, who now range in age from 3 to 9 and live in Dallas and Kansas City. Soon Carmack and her husband Larry Sukut were making similar books as they traveled.

Carmack’s latest title — Building a House — details their time building with Habitat Indonesia. “Nowadays, we all kind of live in our own little bubble,” Carmack says. “I thought it was important for the kids to get some close encounters, some close reference, to the rest of the world.”

The slim volume is filled with photos taken by Sukut, accompanied by Carmack’s explanations of their activities. “I’ve shown you how a house was built in 8 days,” she writes. “What you can’t see is how bridges of friendship, trust and understanding were built during those days. That can be as important as the house.”

We Rebuild.

Disaster strikes in an instant, but shelter and housing needs remain. By giving communities the means to rebuild, Habitat has been able to support, empower and work with disaster-affected families around the world.

Photo contest finalist Robert Cordero experienced firsthand the hope that Habitat’s work has brought to Joplin, Missouri.

View Finalist Gallery


We Build for Today.

How does a family respond when the unthinkable occurs?

In 2007, in the wake of a disputed election in Kenya that led to riots and civil unrest, Teresia Kwambuka Silal and her family were forced from their home. Stunned by the violence occurring all around her — death, destruction, displacement — Teresia had no choice but to walk away, carrying only her children.

Happily, she ended up in a place called Maai Mahiu where today, more than 300 simple, decent stone houses constitute a safe and thriving community.

More than simply a place to live, Maai Mahiu is a symbol of renewal.

It’s a place where children who have known hardship can exchange their fear for joy. A place that cements kindness and community in place of isolation and uncertainty. A place where today’s sunshine helps dispel yesterday’s shadows.

Violence, disaster, unforeseeable circumstance — how does a family respond when the unthinkable occurs? With courage and perseverance and the help of those who will stand alongside them and build something new.

Learn more about Teresia and the community of Maai Mahiu.

We Build for Tomorrow.

Every year, my kindergarten class participates in Habitat’s Act! Speak! Build! Week. I believe that World Habitat Day is a wonderful way to introduce the children to Habitat’s work and social justice issues. I am able to reference this day all year until our culminating activities during Act! Speak! Build! Week.


Children need an awareness of the right to adequate housing for all people and an understanding that even though they are small, they can still help make our world a better place. One of my former students, now going into fourth grade, told me that learning about Habitat was her favorite part of kindergarten; consequently, she encouraged her aunt to donate to this wonderful cause.

For World Habitat Day 2012, we had a Peace Tree to correlate with Habitat’s objectives. Our Peace Tree kept a record of the books we read that focused on peace, caring, tolerance, cultural diversity and sharing. I strongly believe that it is important for children to understand that our responsibility as citizens is to help those in need, serve our community and respect all people in our world.

— Patricia Genovese, kindergarten teacher at Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles

View a Notre Dame Academy digital storybook.


In 2011, the Notre Dame class created a T-shirt clothesline to communicate the need for adequate housing around the world, a project captured here by photo contest finalist Genovese.

View Finalist Gallery



Join the conversation

Post on Habitat’s Facebook page, use the hashtag #whywebuild on Twitter, take the pledge at

None of my problems or personal losses could compare with those of the people who will be living in the houses we helped build that one day. Before I knew it, I had put up a peaceful and ideal home in my heart. This is why I build.

— Simon Romulo Tantoco, member of the Habitat for Humanity Youth Council

Read Simon’s full story.