Letter from the CEO
At Habitat for Humanity, we have begun to emphasize not just numbers, but the very specific impact of our work: helping families build strength, stability and self-reliance. We want to help people move from simply coping to creating a better life for themselves and their families.
Living in the trying circumstances of substandard housing forces many people to summon great strength just to make it through each day, earn a living and keep their children safe. Partnering with Habitat requires additional effort as people learn new skills and develop strict disciplines. Often future homebuyers work very hard on their days off to help build their homes. It is not an easy process. However, homeowners emerge stronger than they ever imagined and confident that they can move forward.
The one thing that so many families living in difficult housing situations dream about is some stability in their lives. Moving around from place to place while chasing the hope for better circumstances is exhausting and defeating. Having a stable home in which to live means that children often do better in school, families and communities are healthier, and parents often get better jobs and improve the family’s financial situation. Habitat helps families acquire a forever home.
And finally, people who partner with Habitat realize that they can take charge of their futures. Many participate in classes to learn how to manage their finances and maintain their houses. They take great pride in having been a part of their own housing solutions.
We have a lot to celebrate from the past year, and in this report, you will find some impressive numbers and facts. However, I am most excited about the changed lives and transformed communities behind those numbers, so you will also read about the successes of several strong and determined families who have rewritten their stories.
As we look back on 2016 — our 40th anniversary year — we also recognize that there is much more to do. Housing affordability in the U.S. is at its worst point since experts began measuring it, and in much of the world, conditions are even worse. But we believe every child should have the opportunity to grow up and thrive in decent shelter, every parent should have the dignity of providing their kids with a safe home, and every family should have the chance for a decent life that allows them to create multigenerational assets. Therefore, we have set some bold goals in our strategic plan beyond just building more houses. We also want to change policies and influence markets that can support additional housing efforts.
We are so grateful for your support, and we realize that we will succeed only with your ongoing help as we redouble our efforts to draw closer to a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
Jonathan T.M. Reckford
CEO, Habitat for Humanity International
We build strength.
Hands raw, shoulders aching from the hard, repetitive work of digging a trench, Rina kept on building. Saturday after Saturday, through blisters, sore muscles and fatigue. Even when minutes turned into hours, and hours into days, she toiled away. “I will not let my children see me give up,” she told herself. “I’m not a quitter. I can do this.”
She was right. Last March, Rina and her three children claimed the keys to their new Habitat for Humanity of Greater Sacramento home in California and moved out of her parents’ garage, a 200-square-foot space filled with a bed and a couch but no heat.
“It was tiny, but at least it was safe,” she recalls.
For Rina, that safety was more important than comfort. Today, her family enjoys both in the Habitat home she helped build through perseverance and hard work. That’s what strength looks like.
For 40 years, Habitat has helped families like Rina’s find their strength by working alongside them to build the very foundation on which a family can thrive.
When a family partners with Habitat to build or improve a place they can call home, they are seizing the opportunity to build a better life. They are working with us to eliminate barriers to better, healthier, more financially stable futures. Often, they are pushing themselves to achieve more than they once might have thought possible.
Elizabeth lives in Pojo, Bolivia, with her two young children: 4-year-old Nelsi and 7-year-old Johnny. The young family depends on the 25-year-old single mother’s work as a farmer on a small plot of land given to her by her father. Elizabeth wanted more for her kids, though, than to just get by.
And so, in addition to working the land, Elizabeth — spurred on by the dream of having a decent place for her family to live — partnered with Habitat Bolivia and began to learn to build even though she previously knew very little about construction.
Now, thanks to Habitat, Elizabeth not only has learned about construction but also has seen the transformation that can occur when a hand up is offered and accepted, when a mother is empowered to improve her family’s future.
In Vietnam, another mother of two celebrates her own home, one that she and her husband have been able to help build. The disaster-resilient house — with its two bedrooms, permanent kitchen and a toilet built with contributions from other organizations through Habitat partnerships — helps protect Diep’s family from possible natural disasters such as typhoons and floods and also creates a healthier space in which her two boys can grow.
“The new house is less humid and has better air ventilation,” she says. “The children’s health is much better, and they rarely get sick.”
In Macedonia, Hristina and her husband, Gjore, also had the well-being of their child in mind when they partnered with Habitat. For years, they had lived in the same house with Gjore’s parents in their village, and while the freedom of their own place beckoned, Hristina thought most about opportunities for her 7-year-old daughter, Ivona.
Their Habitat home in Veles changes everything. “The education that she will get here,” Hristina says, “she would not have been able to get back in the village.
“For every parent, it is important that their child gets a good education. I’m happy about her future, because once you provide a future for your child, life will be easier from that point on.”
A better, surer future — that’s exactly the strength that Habitat seeks to help more families build. With a little help, we all have the potential to stand on our own. Just ask Ronessa, a Paterson, New Jersey, Habitat homeowner who is just a few years away from paying off her mortgage.
As part of the process of becoming a Habitat homeowner, Ronessa was required to take financial literacy courses. She took that new knowledge and opened her own business, a hair salon.
“Habitat showed me how to have a strategic plan,” she says.
Ronessa loves the focus and direction that Habitat has helped her create. In return, she volunteers her time as a member of Paterson Habitat’s board. “I wake up grateful that I am a homeowner and that I control my circumstances,” she says.
We build stability.
Kerri’s journey to providing a stable home for her 4-year-old son, Caleb, began in a neighborhood in Alberta, Canada, filled with criminal activity and fraught with physical — and emotional — dangers. “I stayed because the rent was cheap, and I could afford it,” she says. “I had to do a lot of stuff away from our community so he could be safer.”
The emotional toll of Caleb’s surroundings meant he often sought the comfort and security of his mother’s presence at night. But as soon as Kerri and Caleb moved into their new Habitat Edmonton home just before Christmas in 2015, that changed.
From the very first night, Caleb slept secure in his own room again. “He obviously feels safe,” Kerri says. “And that’s not something I thought I would ever be able to give to him.”
Justin helps his son Jordan with his homework in the dining room of their Habitat home in Colorado.
Every child deserves a stable start in a home where they feel safe and secure. Every parent deserves to know they have the power to take care of their families and to build their own future.
For Gabe and Sylvia, that future will take place in a Habitat Portland/Metro East home they are helping to build in Oregon.
“This neighborhood is the kind of place where my wife and I want to raise our kids,” Gabe says. And now they will be able to, in an accessible home designed to help accommodate their son Oscar, who has cerebral palsy.
Gabe, Sylvia, Oscar and Lucy
“My son loves to go out and be with large groups of people. He loves going to school, the church, the park,” Gabe says. “That would happen less and less living where we are. It would not only isolate Oscar, but it would isolate our entire family.
“Having a Habitat home means stability and affordability, which is something that is in very short supply in Portland. It means more opportunity for our son.”
There are many ways in which Habitat works to be this kind of stabilizing force for families and communities all over the world. We know that a decent home with an affordable mortgage or a home improved incrementally over time through small loans builds stronger, more stable families. And those strong and stable families build strong and stable communities.
Investment in communities is what drives Habitat’s continued neighborhood revitalization efforts, ones centered on places like Webster Street in Valdosta, Georgia, where Valdosta/Lowndes County Habitat stepped up to work and forged partnerships with groups ranging from the local fire department to Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority. Habitat bought abandoned properties along Webster and built new homes in their place. It wasn’t long before a street where people were once afraid to walk had children playing safely and without fear in their yards.
Living without fear is just a dream for many families around the world. Unfortunately, most people in the world who lack adequate housing are not able to secure title to land, which means they live in constant dread of losing the place they call home. In response, Habitat launched a global advocacy campaign this year focused on improving access to land for shelter, an effort we call Solid Ground. We know that once that essential need can be addressed, families are freer to invest in themselves, their homes and their communities.
Additionally, Habitat’s disaster response efforts around the world offer affected families a pathway to stability, providing shelter assistance, education, training and partnerships.
Like so many who endure natural disasters, Virgilio and his wife, Evangeline, felt like Typhoon Haiyan, also known as Typhoon Yolanda, was “the end of the world.”
When the storm ended, the family had lost the roof of their home and most of their possessions. “You go outside the house and see everything is collapsing. Your tears come out because you’re lucky to be alive.” Fortunately, Habitat Philippines mounted an extensive disaster response to help thousands of families who were suffering. Virgilio and Evangeline built a new home not far from where they had been renting — only this house they own themselves.
“We are more stable because we own this house,” Virgilio says.
We build self-reliance.
Living in a small, run-down house with walls of mud, David felt that his fellow villagers regarded him with little respect or hope for his future. Sadly, he wasn’t sure he could blame them.
“If you are in a house that does not give you pride, then your body is not fine, and neither are the children,” he says.
Happily, though, David learned of the small loans offered by Habitat Uganda, an opportunity that would help him build a new brick house for his extended family.
A farmer who sells bananas and pigs to fund his children’s education, David first used his savings to build a proper, solid foundation for the house. He then set up a new business, a brickmaking operation, in order to pay back and receive additional loans while he constructed his new home in stages.
When he looks at the house he has built, David now sees a brighter future. “This house has changed many things about me,” he says. “People trust me, and I am now a community leader.”
Several of David’s children sit outside the family’s new house. Photo: Habitat for Humanity International / Europe, the Middle East and Africa
Building a decent place to live made David proud and put his family on a new path — one that has empowered him to explore his own talents and to no longer feel ashamed. When a family partners with Habitat to build or improve a place they can call home, that newfound confidence and independence is so often the beginning of a lasting transformation.
For a homeowner like Cristina, the first confidence she found was the courage to learn more.
“Although we tried to have a decent life, it was very difficult,” she says. “The cold, the rain, the flooding, the fear of the roof falling over our heads proved to be too much. One day, I said, ‘Enough. We cannot go on living this way.’”
After seeing a group of volunteers working at a neighbor’s home, Cristina decided to attend an economics and housing workshop held by Habitat Argentina, a requirement for anyone interested in participating in Habitat’s neighborhood development project.
“The workshop was so helpful,” Cristina says. “It made me realize how much money I was spending, how to start saving and how to get our house built. Once we were selected, my husband was worried about the loan payments, but I was not. I had faith, and I knew we were going to make it.”
In Kenya, Julius fostered a similar faith as he incrementally built his new house with small loans and help from Habitat, even as he registered the skepticism of the community around him.
“People were just laughing, laughing, laughing,” he says. “They did not know what plan I had in mind. They could not believe that I could build such a house.
“Habitat really provided much because they give you skills,” he continues. “They also talk of a plan. They give you encouragement. They give you examples. They’re good people, and the entire community is very happy. They have seen what we have done.”
For Alicia, what she has done with Habitat to improve her home in Minnesota has increased her ability “to be more self-sufficient and do things on my own.”
She first noticed water leaking in her laundry room, which soon caused mold and damaged the flooring. “It was causing us to be sick,” she recalls. “It was a major issue.” Alicia had the resources to purchase some of the materials needed to repair the damage, but not the experience to tackle the project. That’s where Twin Cities Habitat stepped in to offer assistance.
What she values, she says, is not just the help and training that she gained access to. It’s the skills she now has for future projects. And the empowerment she feels.
Homeownership was a hard-won accomplishment for Alicia, who most of all in life wants to be a good example to her daughters. Her work with Habitat helps her feel like she’s meeting that goal.
“It really did bring out a different side of me,” she says. “It just created a whole new Alicia.”
Creating access, empowering families
In a rural area outside Almaty, Kazakhstan, Ulan is constructing a home for his young family. With a loan acquired from Kaz Microfinance, created in partnership with Habitat for Humanity’s MicroBuild Fund, he plans to upgrade the roof of the home he is building and expand the house’s footprint.
In El Salvador, Luis and 13 of his construction colleagues have become certified construction workers through a Habitat construction technical assistance program, also made possible by the MicroBuild Fund. The program helps masons increase their skills and elevate the quality of construction in their communities.
Luis now shares what he has learned with local community development associations, and he has inspired others to join the program. “They clearly had a desire for us to learn,” he says. By becoming a better mason, Luis is positioned to help more families achieve their dream of a decent and affordable home.
Habitat’s MicroBuild Fund is the first housing-focused microfinance investment vehicle dedicated to helping low-income families. The fund lends to microfinance institutions, which in turn provide small loans to families to build safe, decent and durable homes as their finances allow. The fund has grown rapidly and has provided access to better housing for more than 272,000 people in 20 countries.
Earlier this year, the Overseas Private Investment Corp. honored the groundbreaking fund with its Access to Finance award during the 2016 OPIC Impact Awards in Washington, D.C. Through these annual awards, OPIC, a MicroBuild investor, recognizes investments made by the corporation that demonstrate social and developmental impact in the world. Habitat’s MicroBuild Fund is the first housing- or shelter-related recipient of an OPIC Impact Award.
“Improving systems that enable families to achieve affordable shelter is critical to realizing our vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live,” says Michael Carscaddon, Habitat for Humanity International’s executive vice president of administration and chief financial officer.
By the numbers
The microfinance program in Egypt has an average repayment rate of 98 percent.
In Guerrero, Mexico, 244 families have stopped cooking over an open fire thanks to the eco-stoves program.
The ninth annual National Women Build Week, sponsored by Lowe’s, challenged women in the U.S. to devote at least one day between April 30 and May 8 to help build affordable housing in their communities. More than 17,000 women volunteered at one of 300 host sites.
In response to Cyclone Winston, more than 5,000 emergency shelter kits were distributed in Fiji.
With your help, more families can build strength, stability and independence around the world.