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Investing in families pays off citywide -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Investing in families pays off citywide

In September 2012, Cindy Thomas and Major Washington moved into a Habitat home they helped build.
©Habitat for Humanity International/Allen Sullivan

Dream Dallas transforms blighted areas into livable, affordable communities
By Julie Gurnon


Hundreds of vacant, derelict properties, like this one in the Bonton neighborhood, invite crime and cost the city of Dallas millions to maintain. The house on the left is being built with funds raised through Dream Dallas.
©Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity/Monica Cruz


One street over from a derelict property, a newly completed Habitat house shows what’s possible in the Bonton neighborhood. ©Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity/Monica Cruz


Seven times in 10 years, Major Washington and Cindy Thomas packed up their family and moved, searching for a decent, affordable place to call home in Dallas, Texas.

Their seventh move was to a three-bedroom rental home that cost $800 a month.

Washington, 36, is a warehouse worker for a distribution company, and Thomas, 35, is a certified nursing assistant with a hospice organization. Even with full-time jobs, the couple struggled every month to cover all the bills.

Even worse, all of the bedrooms in their rented home had problems with mold, creating an unhealthy environment for the couple and their daughters — Taylor, 11, and Tayviona, 9.

The couple hated the frequent moves and having to uproot their daughters. “It’s one of the worst things that can happen when you have kids,” Washington said.

Thomas added, “It’s been hard on the girls, having to change schools frequently and leave their friends.”

Fortunately, the family’s eighth move was the last one they’ll have to make for a long time. In September 2012, they moved into their own home, which they helped build in partnership with Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity.

Watching a crisis unfold

Thousands of hardworking Dallas residents, particularly those in South Dallas, face a similar obstacle: trying to find a place that’s both decent and affordable. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and most finance experts, “affordable” means that a family’s total housing costs — including utilities — should be less than 30 percent of its gross income.

The inner-city neighborhoods in South Dallas have been neglected for decades. When the economy soured and the housing market collapsed in 2008, the area took a big hit. Blight and crime grew considerably as residents suffered from the highest rates of unemployment and property foreclosures in the city. Farther south, developers abandoned the construction of many subdivisions.

Bill Hall, chief executive officer of Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, saw an opportunity in the downturn.

“Like the rest of the country, we watched as the foreclosure crisis unfolded and more and more families needed affordable housing,” Hall said. “We wanted to do more, but our resources were already stretched to the limit.

“We realized that if we wanted to do more, we had to do things differently.”

A firm foundation of data

In true Texas style, Dallas Area Habitat decided that if it was going to make a change, it needed to make a big change.

In September 2008, Habitat launched Dream Dallas, a signature initiative to raise $100 million and serve 1,000 families in five struggling South Dallas neighborhoods: Bonton, Fair Park, Joppa, the Lancaster Transportation Corridor and West Dallas.

The campaign continues Habitat’s mission to build affordable homes with partner families, donors and volunteers, but it adds three new elements: an economic impact study, expanded services and more partnerships.

It was a historic fundraising goal.

“We couldn’t just ask people to invest in Dream Dallas,” said Melissa DeLeon, vice president of development for Dallas Area Habitat. “We had to show them just how much impact their investments would make.”

Staff members had plenty of photos, testimonials from partner families and supporters and their own collected data, but they wanted hard data from an independent source that would confirm what they knew from experience — that the economic and social impact of Habitat’s work extends far beyond a family, to the community and to the greater metropolitan area.

Habitat commissioned Paul Hendershot, from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, to conduct an independent study under the direction of Bernard Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute and an adjunct professor of business economics at SMU.

Released in November 2010, “Building a Better Economy: A Habitat for Humanity Economic Impact Study” gives Habitat supporters and potential donors a fully focused, data-driven picture of the widespread benefits of their investments.

One key finding is that for every dollar that Dallas Area Habitat spends, it generates $3.18 of economic activity.

The clear documentation backs up the anecdotal evidence of Habitat for Humanity affiliates in all 50 states.

“Many smaller Habitat affiliates don’t have the means to have a study like this conducted, but they are having the same kind of impact,” DeLeon said. “This ripple effect still occurs on every scale.”

Next: Expanding the mission to fit the need
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