By Jonathan Reckford, Habitat for Humanity International CEO
Q: What happens after a build? Does Habitat continue to stay involved in communities?
A: One of Habitat’s catch phrases — but also a powerful truth — is that we build so much more than houses. Habitat seeks to empower families and communities and focuses on building foundations for a better life. Our emphasis on developing partnerships, inspiring people to help others and creating healthy, sustainable places to live has meant that local residents, businesses, other nonprofits and government groups continue to make improvements in areas where we work.
One great example of this has been in Varjada, a village in northeast Brazil. There, Habitat partnered with families to replace mud huts with basic block houses, which eliminated the environment for “kissing bugs” that cause Chagas disease. In addition, we designed roof systems to capture water during the rainy season and partnered with other organizations to build large stone cisterns alongside each house. This enabled families to collect enough fresh drinking water to carry the families through the year and meant that women in the village no longer had to spend hours each day walking to collect water. With help from other nonprofits and a bank, the women created a profitable microbusiness in embroidery, and the state and local governments also have worked with residents to create a school and a health care center.
In the U.S., we have seen similar transformations through our Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which focuses on invigorating communities in partnership with nonprofits, churches, government agencies and other organizations. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for example, we have seen dramatic changes in the Cherry Street community, which had declined for decades and had become a haven for violence. A local Habitat team met with neighbors whose desires were very clear: rid Cherry Street of the blighted, vacant housing and do something about the crime. They had a vision — to make this neighborhood with such a rich history inviting to young families again.
Habitat announced plans to replace 16 of the worst houses with new ones. Because of that commitment, private developers purchased and renovated six more houses as well as historic apartment buildings in the area. Soon, businesses, community leaders, schools and other groups came forward with their own resources and big ideas for change.
The before and after pictures are incredible, and crime in the community has dropped by 50 percent — with drug offenses down more than 70 percent. Our local Habitat affiliate has now expanded their efforts to include surrounding areas.