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An interview with former Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

An interview with former Michigan governor, Jennifer Granholm

In the summer of 2010, Jennifer Granholm launched the MI Family Builds Initiative, an effort to raise awareness of Habitat for Humanity’s work in Michigan building decent, affordable housing in partnership with local families. She spoke with Habitat World in November, as her final term as governor was coming to a close, to share her experiences and perspective from the state’s highest office.

HABITAT WORLD:
As a governor, you’ve become involved personally and launched the MI Family Builds Initiative. Could you tell me some of the goals of the initiative?
JENNIFER GRANHOLM:
This has given people an opportunity to roll up their sleeves and help in the rebuilding of their communities and, therefore, Michigan and Michigan’s economy. We’re constantly talking about building a new foundation for Michigan’s economy. This gave people quite literally a way to help build a new foundation for the family that was in need.

HW:
The vision of Habitat is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. What are some of the most significant obstacles you’ve seen that would stand in the way of achieving this vision?
JG:
Poverty and job loss. Our Census Bureau indicates that about 14 percent of Michigan citizens live below the poverty level. And those families obviously have been affected by our economy and the loss of manufacturing and automotive jobs, but maybe they have been affected as well by an illness in the family or the death of a family member. With assistance from Habitat, those families can be lifted up and helped to be self-sufficient. Habitat’s philosophy to build simple, decent houses with people in need offers these homeownership opportunities to families who are unable to obtain conventional house financing — especially the ones whose income is 30 to 50 percent of the area’s median income. In many cases, the prospective Habitat homeowner families make a $500 down payment and then they contribute that sweat equity on the construction of their home. Mortgage payments become affordable because the Habitat houses are built using a lot of donations of land and material and certainly labor. That obstacle of poverty and of job loss has been very real in Michigan, but Habitat has helped us to break those barriers down.

HW:
Tell a little bit about the value of partnerships between community groups, faith congregations and municipalities that help these things to happen.
JG:
Hugely important. We’ve had some great examples of partnerships in Michigan. Our family built with Habitat Detroit in a neighborhood on the east side called the Morningside community. We had partnerships all over the place to be able to make this happen. In this particular neighborhood, there was the partnership with the family, and then the partnership with the faith community who provided more people, and the partnership with the private sector entities that allowed for materials to be donated. The partnerships are with people for educational training and networking opportunities; we had folks who consulted on the development for the board of Habitat and other board-related issues. We had people who were administering grants, since the Michigan State Housing Development Authority is a huge partner for Habitat. We had help from the Federal Home Loan Bank; we had help from the Michigan Housing and Community Development Fund. We had help from the Michigan Department of Corrections prison build program. We had a lot of corporate and private gifts and grants and fundraising efforts — our family did fundraising for the home that we built as well. We created a statewide public awareness campaign for the need for the affordable housing and how Habitat could meet that; there was advocacy done at both the state and federal level on issues related to Habitat, and that goes on. We’ve just had a huge amount of partnering and a huge amount of education in order to make this a success.

HW:
Do you think this is replicable by your average Joe?
JG:
I do think that the average Joe can certainly sign up with Habitat to be part of the partnership. Certainly the average state can replicate that network of partnerships that we’ve been able to do. It takes more than one person to make Habitat work, and that’s the beauty of it, really. So the average Joe should sign up — or the average Josephine.

HW:
Tell me about your home when you were a child.
JG:
We were just a very middle-class — started out very lower-middle-class — family, but I always had a home to go to, always had a house to go to, always had parents who made it a home, and I always had a bedroom. They were in safe neighborhoods. I think that’s what we would expect for every family — that whether it’s an actual house or an apartment, it’s safe, and it’s decent, there aren’t leaks in the roof overhead, they don’t have to turn on the stove to get warmth, that there is a safe place for the family to be. I think we would expect that for every single child in America, that they live in a safe and secure home. And that’s really Habitat’s great gift.

HW:
What are some of your favorite experiences, having been on site?
JG:
I feel like I’ve had so many. I would say clearly the most special has been our Michigan family build this summer with the family reunion, and I felt very fortunate to be able to become the expert on the miter saw for the baseboards and the molding. A part of the volunteer group was an organization called The Giving Gardens, out of Grand Rapids. They gather plants and snips from plants from all sorts of people across the country. The idea is you take some of the snips and you plant them, and then when they get big enough, you give it forward. So in the house that we were working on, we had plants there that came from our garden, so the governor’s garden is a part of the landscaping of this little home in Detroit. We also had plants there from people like Martha Stewart, who had donated some herbs from her garden for this effort. There was a sense of something very special about being able to take a plant from New York, from Martha Stewart, and have it be transported to Michigan through a volunteer organization to this little house in Detroit for our family reunion. We all felt a great sense of oneness and unity of purpose in helping this family, the Lewis family, to make a home.

HW:
Looking forward, what do you anticipate your involvement in housing issues looking like?
JG:
I think our family hopes to always be involved in Habitat. The builds themselves are obviously very enriching for those who are helping, as well as for those who are helped. So we are a family of volunteerism to begin with, so I would very much expect that we will remain involved in helping to build homes with families.