By Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International
Recently, I was given the honor of delivering the 12th annual John T. Dunlop Lecture at Harvard University. The lecture is sponsored by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. My purpose was to either persuade or remind the business leaders, students, academics, policy makers and others who were gathered that access to affordable housing is a vitally important issue that requires action from all sectors of society. I wanted them to join me in the belief that people of widely varying incomes can be successful homeowners, and I hoped we might leave as better advocates with a renewed sense of urgency for tackling difficult challenges.
My talk focused on three myths that I often hear about affordable housing:
Myth 1: Housing is important, but it is not at the top of the list. The reality is that affordable housing is central to education, health, employment and economic development.
Myth 2: Affordable housing is someone else’s problem. Housing at all economic levels has to be set in the context of community. If we are to provide affordable housing for all, then public, private and social sectors must work together.
Myth 3: Homeownership really isn’t for low-income people. We need the full spectrum of housing products, and people of many income levels can be successful homeowners. At Habitat, we believe that owning a house is a “power move” for many low-income families.
I shared examples of compassionate and ingenious responses concerning shelter for some of those affected by the 2004 tsunami in Asia; of a community in North Carolina that has been transformed from an unsightly center of crime and blight to a thriving and inviting place to live; and about the health, education and livelihood improvements that have resulted from our efforts to provide housing solutions in a village in Brazil.
I find that while almost everyone knows of Habitat, few realize the breadth and depth of our global work so I welcome these chances to remind people that a world of hope starts at home. I urge everyone to consider the effect that stable housing has in communities all around the world. Ponder the fact that poverty housing affects everyone — across demographics — and that it takes everyone to address the challenges of ensuring adequate shelter for all.