Building and advocating go hand-in-hand Carter Work Project volunteers boost housing initiative -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Building and advocating go hand-in-hand Carter Work Project volunteers boost housing initiative

By Arlene Corbin Lewis

While thousands of volunteers converged upon the Mississippi Gulf Coast this year for the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project (CWP), those who could not make it were encouraged to pick up a pen instead of a hammer.

As Habitat embraces advocacy as a natural extension of its mission, more and more people in the United States are signing up to advocate with Habitat on critical issues that have an impact on the ministry. Recently, after an exhaustive process, the need for a national housing trust fund was identified as priority issue for Habitat.

And with that, a national housing trust fund campaign was born.

Housing trust funds work. Already they have proven their success at both the local and state levels. That’s why affordable housing advocates, a bipartisan group of congressional leaders and others support the creation of a housing trust fund, with dedicated funding to produce and preserve rental homes that the lowest-income people in the United States can afford. With the credit crunch and the foreclosure crisis, along with inadequate wages and high costs of living, it is increasingly difficult for low-income working families to secure stable and affordable housing.

The serious need for a national housing trust fund was not lost on those who chose to advocate on this issue during the CWP. During the May 12-16 build on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, worksite volunteers, affiliates and HFHI staff members were all asked to mobilize around the issue of a national housing trust fund. The state and local versions of these funds, which exist in more than 170 areas nationwide and generate more than $1.6 billion a year to support critical housing needs, offer much-needed low-interest loans and grants to affordable housing developers.

To help rally people around this effort, e-mail alerts were distributed, postcards for Capitol Hill were collected, and volunteers were given the message that a national housing trust fund will not only help Habitat serve more families throughout the United States but also give communities the ability to create jobs and increase the local tax base.

Habitat’s supporters heard the message loud and clear. By the end of the project, hundreds of CWP volunteers had signed postcards in support of a national housing trust fund and the millions of people in need of safe and affordable homes. And using Habitat’s online advocacy tool, nearly 3,400 individuals sent e-mails to their representatives in Congress, urging them to support a national housing trust fund.

Legislators on Capitol Hill heard the message, too: The Housing and Economic Recovery Bill of 2008, which created the National Housing Trust Fund, passed out of Congress quickly in July.

Supporters both on and off the worksite at Carter Work Project 2008 helped make this victory possible with their letters, calls and online visits to legislators.

Such an effective mobilization of thousands of volunteers at a construction event exemplified the idea that Habitat needs to use a dual approach – building homes and advocating for solutions – in order to reach our goal of eliminating poverty housing worldwide.

Arlene Corbin Lewis is associate director of communications for HFHI’s Government Relations and Advocacy office in Washington. Prior to joining Habitat in October 2007, Arlene worked for an anti-discrimination and civil rights organization. She can be contacted at: