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Investing in families pays off citywide (part 2) -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Investing in families pays off citywide (part 2)

In May 2012, Cindy Thomas and Major Washington joined AmeriCorps members and volunteers at Habitat for Humanity’s annual Build-a-Thon to begin
work on their family’s home in Dallas, Texas. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Allen Sullivan

Expanding the mission to fit the need


Sometimes just a new coat of paint and some landscaping can give a home — and the surrounding neighborhood — a much-needed boost.
©Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity/Monica Cruz


Like many other Habitat affiliates across the United States, the Great Recession prompted Dallas Area Habitat to expand its range of services.

“Our traditional housing model just wasn’t enough in the face of the stalled economy and foreclosure crisis,” said Mark Shank, chairman of the board at Dallas Area Habitat. “We had to enlarge our vision and move it beyond just house building to neighborhood investment and revitalization.”

Because the neighborhoods targeted by Dream Dallas have high numbers of homes in decline and abandoned nuisance properties, Habitat began the first of two new initiatives in 2010. A Brush with Kindness serves existing homeowners, helping them to make exterior repairs and landscaping improvements. To date, volunteers have worked with 140 homeowners in South Dallas.

Boretta Oliver worked alongside volunteers from Conifer Health Solutions in August 2011 to paint her house and install new windows.

“I’m very blessed for them to do this,” Oliver told a local reporter.

To address abandoned properties — municipal records indicate more than 4,000 in Dallas alone — the affiliate launched its Fight the Blight campaign in October 2011, with a goal of demolishing 25 nuisance and derelict properties in South Dallas in one year. Some of these properties had stood vacant for years, but a bulldozer can dispatch them in just a few minutes. To date, 15 homes have been torn down.

Longtime resident Beverly Harrison watched one of the demolitions in her neighborhood of Oak Cliff.

“In 1968, Oak Cliff was beautiful country, and over the years it just declined,” she told a local TV reporter. “Now I see that people have an interest in bringing it back to its former glory.”

Enlisting a dream team

To bring back those neglected neighborhoods — and make sure they can thrive for years to come — Dallas Area Habitat needed partnerships to play a pivotal role.

“We call Dream Dallas a comprehensive approach to neighborhood revitalization,” CEO Hall said. “More than 50 government agencies and community organizations are partnering with us to provide additional funding and help improve access to other essential needs, like transportation, education and health care.”

For starters, Habitat needed greater funding support to build 1,000 homes. By combining contributions from private businesses, foundations, faith-based organizations and individuals with public funding and financial incentives from government agencies, Dallas Area Habitat has:

  • Built 310 of the 1,000 projected homes with federal funds awarded to Habitat for Humanity International from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program 2, along with private funding.
  • Purchased lots with federal Community Development Block Grant funds from the city of Dallas.
  • Purchased land-bank properties at reasonable cost from the city.
  • Provided home repairs and modifications to homeowners with special needs through a partnership with the Federal Home Loan Bank, a recipient of federal funds from the Special Needs Assistance Program.

Bringing homeowners back into these neighborhoods is an important piece in the revitalization puzzle. But to ensure continued improvements and long-term stability, Dallas Area Habitat is collaborating with other organizations dedicated to nonhousing issues.

Some of the social partnerships supporting Dream Dallas include:

  • Providing construction and environmental remediation training to participants in Build4Success, a hands-on, skill-building program offered by the nonprofit CitySquare.
  • Partnering with Innercity Community Development Corp., a community-based nonprofit located in South Dallas/Fair Park, on similar housing and community redevelopment needs.
  • Holding neighborhood events to connect residents to one another and to nearby resources.
  • Working with the city attorney’s office and code compliance officers to address derelict properties, code violations and environmental hazards.
  • Starting discussions with educators and the police on such issues as schools and crime.

Dreams become reality

All of these additional services and communitywide partnerships, along with the economic impact study, helped Dallas Area Habitat launch its strategic vision for a unified Dallas. The economic impact study shows that donated funds are investments, with real social and economic benefits not only for partner families but also for entire neighborhoods and cities. The expanded services and partnerships demonstrate a wider focus on revitalizing entire neighborhoods and making them sustainable.

Four years into the Dream Dallas fundraising campaign, Habitat for Humanity has raised $70 million through private donations and federal grants.

For Major Washington and Cindy Thomas and their two daughters — one of 1,000 families who will be able to improve their living situations through Habitat — a home truly is “a dream come true.”

“The first night in our new home, we walked around and looked at everything and couldn’t believe that it was all new and it was all ours,” Thomas said.

The couple already sees a change in their girls.

“They sleep through the night,” Thomas said. “They feel secure. The way they act has changed. They can’t wait to come home!”

Taylor, the oldest daughter, enjoys dancing, and the youngest, Tayviona, loves to sing. In the new home, they have plenty of room to study. Taylor wants to be a lawyer, and Tayviona is an aspiring doctor.

Moving into the home was “all about the girls,” but the parents are excited, too, to enjoy some of the simplest pleasures of homeownership. Thomas says she enjoys relaxing in her own bathtub, and Washington’s goal is to cultivate a lawn lush enough to lie on.

“I’m just so thankful,” Washington said. “When the girls get ready to go off to college, they’ll leave this Habitat house, and that’s the house they will return to after.”

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