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Field Notes: September 2011 -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Field Notes: September 2011

Perspectives from around Habitat’s world

Gateway Expansion: To reach new communities, Habitat St. Louis adapts its ways

By Phillip Jordan

 


Volunteers have helped Habitat St. Louis create more than 300 homes since 1986. Beginning this fall, the affiliate ventures into new territory to reach more families.
Photo courtesy of Habitat St. Louis.

   


For nearly the entirety of Habitat for Humanity St. Louis’ existence, the affiliate has concentrated its efforts on St. Louis’ North City. Blighted land, crumbling properties and abandoned communities have provided Habitat with a chance to create substantive and visible change.

Since its founding in 1986, Habitat St. Louis has built or repaired more than 300 houses in North City — safe homes for more than 1,000 parents and children in the area. Last year, more than 3,000 volunteers helped Habitat build 23 of those homes.

But need exists throughout the region, and the affiliate wants to reach new places. This fall, Habitat St. Louis will begin working, for the first time, in South City.

“Our biggest goal is to have a broader presence,” says Kimberly McKinney, Habitat St. Louis CEO. “We don’t want to have someone say, ‘Habitat? Oh yeah, they work in North City.’ We want to provide families with hope in every part of the city and throughout St. Louis County.”

That ambition comes to life with the construction of five homes in South City’s historic Carondelet neighborhood. Over the next two years, Habitat hopes to build at least another dozen homes here.

The southern section of St. Louis hasn’t suffered the scars and abandonment that have plagued North City. Its working-class neighborhoods, however, include homes in need of repairs and plenty of infill opportunities where new housing could be built with low-income families.

In Carondelet, Habitat St. Louis enters a neighborhood with promising assets. A growing and diverse population, a reemerging business district, parks and public transit options make the neighborhood ideal for residential growth. Still, to succeed here, new challenges have forced Habitat St. Louis to learn a few new tricks.

For starters, Habitat needed to collaborate with new municipalities, development agencies and, most prominently, historic-preservation groups. Carondelet was initially established as an independent village and its boundaries include some of St. Louis’ most historic homes. To build in the neighborhood, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Habitat St. Louis worked to pass three layers of design approval.

Habitat also has tirelessly assured neighbors that affordable housing doesn’t have to detract from the neighborhood’s historic nature. Tom Purcell is chairman of the Carondelet Housing Corporation, a locally based group that supports efforts to preserve and develop quality housing in the community. Purcell’s group first invited Habitat to work in the neighborhood; he says Habitat’s collaborative spirit has won over skeptics.

“There were some disagreements at first about how Habitat’s design fits the area, but Habitat hosted a series of meetings, made tweaks and showed a willingness to adjust,” Purcell says. “At the same time, Habitat also explained their commitment not to give up on their principles and how they’re trying to serve who they need to serve in their mission. It impressed people.”

“The best thing is that the people we’re working with care deeply about making the community an even better place to live,” McKinney adds. “It’s been a challenge, but it’s made us think more creatively about how we can work.”

That creativity extends to the construction site, too. Building on more constrained sites, doing infill housing and coming up with new schedules for volunteers have all been re-learning experiences. “Flexibility is huge,” McKinney says. “We’ve had to adapt in a couple of ways, especially since we’re not taking over an entire neighborhood, like we have so often in the past.

“It’s making us smarter. Sometimes, even if something’s not broke, you still need to fix it to find better solutions!”

Purcell says he suspects that approach might be one of the reasons Habitat continues to grow. “As a businessman, I’m impressed,” says Purcell. “I treat Habitat as a respected developer. What I’ve realized is that when Habitat comes into a community, they deal honestly with what and who is already there.

“They have a vision for St. Louis and a very focused dedication on accomplishing it. But what they’ve done here — working on new designs, doing infill housing — it shows they have flexibility, too.”

Moving forward on a promise: The 2011 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project supports local efforts in Haiti
By Phillip Jordan

 


This November, a field in Leogane’s Santo community will be filled with neighbors and volunteers building 100 new Habitat houses. Photo by Jason Asteros.

   


Less than a month after the January 2010 earthquake forever altered Haiti’s landscape, Habitat for Humanity made a bold commitment. Over the next five years, Habitat would seek to serve 50,000 earthquake-affected families, helping Haitians move toward safer, more secure, permanent places to call home.

From Nov. 5-12, that pledge will take new shape, when more than 400 international volunteers work alongside Haitian families to build 100 core houses in Leogane, Haiti. The November event is the first of back-to-back Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Projects scheduled to take place in the country. Each year, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, give a week of their time to lead volunteers in building homes and raising awareness of the need for affordable housing. In 2011 and 2012, the Carter Work Project heads to Haiti.

“Like the rest of the world, Rosalynn and I were heartbroken to see the devastation and despair that the earthquake brought onto a country already so impoverished,” says President Carter. “We are pleased to join Habitat volunteers and the Haitian people to rebuild homes and to bring attention to the ongoing support needed for Haiti’s recovery.”

International volunteers will dedicate their time and resources to support efforts in Leogane, a town about 20 miles west of Port-au-Prince. The earthquake that flattened the country’s capital actually had its violent epicenter eight miles below the dry ground of Leogane, damaging or destroying more than 80 percent of the town’s structures and leaving thousands homeless.

Since the earthquake, more than 27,000 Haitian families have partnered with Habitat through a variety of construction programs: emergency shelter kits, transitional and upgradable shelters, and repairs. Habitat’s housing damage assessments and household mapping and surveying have benefited thousands more.

The earthquake also left survivors without the means to rebuild and without jobs to make a living. Habitat Haiti has trained locals and provided job opportunities through the construction of upgradable and transitional shelters for those who lost everything.

The 400 international volunteers supporting this year’s Carter Work Project will build with many of those Haitians trained through Habitat’s local resource center. Together, their work will help 100 families craft a new future for their resilient community. Eventually, this site will provide as many as 500 families with a healthy, secure place to heal, grow and thrive.

From the very beginning, Habitat has worked in partnership with families here to envision this new community, called “Santo.” Once the land was secured, Habitat engaged potential new homeowners in the design, planning and decision-making for the new neighborhood.

Habitat has worked with these families to address all the needs the community might have: house designs, environmental concerns, employment opportunities, proper water and sanitation, education and infrastructure. The community also is helping Habitat identify the most vulnerable families that need to be reached first.

“We are doing this right from the beginning,” says Claude Jeudy, Habitat Haiti’s national director. “If this is also in the hands of the local community from the start, we can better ensure we’re increasing self-sufficiency among the families and that we’re creating sustainable solutions.”