Houses with a blue sky in the background.

5 qualities of a decent home

Everything Habitat for Humanity does is guided by our vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live. Globally, Habitat for Humanity helps families build or improve a decent, affordable place that they can call home. While our work might look a little different in each of the 70 countries where we have a presence — based on local needs, styles, climate and materials — the elements that make a home “decent” are universal.

Meet LaTonia

For LaTonia, the fixed, low-interest mortgage on her Habitat Greater Nashville home provides the financial security she needs to handle her family’s day-to-day and the financial freedom to think toward the future. Previously, every raise she got from her job at a medical center was met with an increase in rent. Eventually, LaTonia was forced to give up the apartment she shared with her 13-year-old son, Monty, and move back in with her mother. That’s when she turned to Habitat. The financial training and manageable mortgage that Habitat provides has allowed her to save — she plans to invest those savings in education for her and her son. “Owning a home of my own is a lifelong dream come true,” she says. “And we’re finally in a better position to reach even more dreams of ours.”

Meet Marta and Victor

For the millions of Guatemalans living below that country’s poverty line, lack of basic services or structural issues have caused their homes to negatively impact their health. Through Habitat Guatemala’s Healthy Homes program, volunteers work alongside homeowners to install smokeless stoves to improve air quality and latrines and water filters to improve sanitation and water quality. Thanks to these efforts, Marta, Victor and their five children are currently thriving in their San Lucas Tolimán home. Before, the family cooked on an open-flame stove. “The smoke stayed inside the kitchen, causing us to suffer from respiratory diseases,” Marta says. The new, larger stove makes breathing easier and also saves resources by using less wood. And the latrine and water filter help keep the children healthier.

Meet a coalition that created change

Habitat Côte d’Ivoire pulled together community members, government officials, village authorities, youth organizations and others to facilitate the creation of a simple, effective system to issue land certificates and raise public awareness of the importance of secure land tenure. Through the coalition’s work, nearly 100,000 people in local villages now have recognized land documentation, making it possible for families to obtain bank loans to improve their homes, start businesses and advance their standard of living. “When we visit these areas today, people come to us showing the land certificate in their hands,” says Yao Sény Jean-Jacques, national director of Habitat Côte d’Ivoire. “This is the first time these people have access to a valid document proving their right to property.”

Meet Maximino and Catalina

For years, Maximino, Catalina and their three children rented a small, expensive two-bedroom townhome in Vancouver, Washington. One bedroom was reserved for their teenage daughter, Lizeth, who has cerebral palsy and needed the space for her extensive medical equipment. Catalina often had to carry her daughter down hallways and into the bathroom, places her wheelchair could not fit. As their rent continued to rise and the children continued to grow, the family needed a more sustainable solution. Today, the family’s accessible Evergreen Habitat home has wider doors and hallways, and a bathroom with a lower sink and a higher toilet. When he considers his family’s new reality, Maximino is still in awe at the haven their home offers — as well as the doors to growth that it will open for each of them. “We love this house,” he says. “We’re just so happy here.”

Meet families building resilience

Habitat New Zealand’s Build Back Safer training gives families the confidence that their home will stand up to the elements when cyclone season arrives. Habitat staff and volunteers work with families to fortify their homes by replacing roofs using safe cyclone-strapping techniques. Armed with new tools and know-how, families are better equipped to care for their homes before and after disaster hits. “In the Pacific, tropical cyclones are a fact of life, but unsafe shelter doesn’t have to be,” says Alan Thorp, chief operating officer of Habitat New Zealand. “Building the roof together — with the family assisting and learning along the way — models resilient techniques that they can continue to apply as they make further improvements to their home.”

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Meet LaTonia

For LaTonia, the fixed, low-interest mortgage on her Habitat Greater Nashville home provides the financial security she needs to handle her family’s day-to-day and the financial freedom to think toward the future. Previously, every raise she got from her job at a medical center was met with an increase in rent. Eventually, LaTonia was forced to give up the apartment she shared with her 13-year-old son, Monty, and move back in with her mother. That’s when she turned to Habitat. The financial training and manageable mortgage that Habitat provides has allowed her to save — she plans to invest those savings in education for her and her son. “Owning a home of my own is a lifelong dream come true,” she says. “And we’re finally in a better position to reach even more dreams of ours.”

Meet Marta and Victor

For the millions of Guatemalans living below that country’s poverty line, lack of basic services or structural issues have caused their homes to negatively impact their health. Through Habitat Guatemala’s Healthy Homes program, volunteers work alongside homeowners to install smokeless stoves to improve air quality and latrines and water filters to improve sanitation and water quality. Thanks to these efforts, Marta, Victor and their five children are currently thriving in their San Lucas Tolimán home. Before, the family cooked on an open-flame stove. “The smoke stayed inside the kitchen, causing us to suffer from respiratory diseases,” Marta says. The new, larger stove makes breathing easier and also saves resources by using less wood. And the latrine and water filter help keep the children healthier.

Meet a coalition that created change

Habitat Côte d’Ivoire pulled together community members, government officials, village authorities, youth organizations and others to facilitate the creation of a simple, effective system to issue land certificates and raise public awareness of the importance of secure land tenure. Through the coalition’s work, nearly 100,000 people in local villages now have recognized land documentation, making it possible for families to obtain bank loans to improve their homes, start businesses and advance their standard of living. “When we visit these areas today, people come to us showing the land certificate in their hands,” says Yao Sény Jean-Jacques, national director of Habitat Côte d’Ivoire. “This is the first time these people have access to a valid document proving their right to property.”

Meet Maximino and Catalina

For years, Maximino, Catalina and their three children rented a small, expensive two-bedroom townhome in Vancouver, Washington. One bedroom was reserved for their teenage daughter, Lizeth, who has cerebral palsy and needed the space for her extensive medical equipment. Catalina often had to carry her daughter down hallways and into the bathroom, places her wheelchair could not fit. As their rent continued to rise and the children continued to grow, the family needed a more sustainable solution. Today, the family’s accessible Evergreen Habitat home has wider doors and hallways, and a bathroom with a lower sink and a higher toilet. When he considers his family’s new reality, Maximino is still in awe at the haven their home offers — as well as the doors to growth that it will open for each of them. “We love this house,” he says. “We’re just so happy here.”

Meet families building resilience

Habitat New Zealand’s Build Back Safer training gives families the confidence that their home will stand up to the elements when cyclone season arrives. Habitat staff and volunteers work with families to fortify their homes by replacing roofs using safe cyclone-strapping techniques. Armed with new tools and know-how, families are better equipped to care for their homes before and after disaster hits. “In the Pacific, tropical cyclones are a fact of life, but unsafe shelter doesn’t have to be,” says Alan Thorp, chief operating officer of Habitat New Zealand. “Building the roof together — with the family assisting and learning along the way — models resilient techniques that they can continue to apply as they make further improvements to their home.”

A decent home:

1. Is affordable

An affordable home means a family can cover housing costs and still have ample budget for life’s other

necessities: food, health care, transportation, education. As rents and mortgages in the U.S. grow faster than wages, the number of families becoming cost burdened by their housing — meaning they spend more than that 30% — is growing. Too many of our neighbors work hard and still come up short, not because of their own efforts but because of systemic issues and an inequitable economy. Too many essential workers find themselves priced out of the areas where they work. Too many families are denied the personal and economic stability that safe, decent and affordable housing provides. That’s why Habitat builds, helps revitalize communities and advocates.

Around the world, Habitat also works to direct investment capital to the housing sector. We want to ensure that housing microfinance is available to more families, that there is an adequate supply of housing products and related services in the market, and we want to facilitate investment in innovative solutions. What that means is that we partner to make affordable construction materials and services like contractors more widely available and that we work to increase access to the small loans that will allow families to incrementally improve their shelter.

By working to increase housing affordability wherever Habitat has a presence, we help families secure a foundation from which to grow and thrive. And we help reinforce the economic and social fabric that binds us all.

2. Safeguards a family’s health

Where we live shapes our lives. Just as a high-quality home can keep us well, a poor-quality home can make us sick. Water leaks and pests can trigger asthma. Overcrowding more easily spreads contagious diseases. Unfortunately, as housing costs continue to rise, more and more families are forced to sacrifice the quality of their home for one they can afford. And as a result, their health suffers.

In addition to building new homes that are durable and healthy, Habitat also completes home repairs to improve and preserve existing housing stock. Incremental changes to existing structures — like repairing leaking roofs in the U.S. or replacing dirt floors with concrete ones or installing latrines and access to clean water where families previously had none around the world — can help immediately alleviate the physical threats posed and mental stress caused by living in poor conditions.

By helping more families build or improve the places they call home, we also can build healthier, equitable and resilient communities for generations to come.

3. Is secure

The foundation of a decent home is the land it sits on. Yet more than 70% of the world’s population lacks the formal documentation for their land that would protect them against eviction. In many countries, women are especially prone to displacement, particularly after a male head of household dies, due to gender-biased laws that prevent them from owning property.

Guiding and empowering individuals in the legal process to secure permanent land tenure, whereby they have right to occupy their land through titles, and to write wills of their own to maintain that security for their family after they pass on, results in long-lasting stability and freedom. Once these rights are secured, families are more able to invest in their homes and their businesses, improving their standard of living.

4. Is designed to be accessible

Everyone should be able to live safely and independently in their homes, regardless of income or mobility. But for many older adults and individuals with disabilities, that isn’t the case.

In the U.S., more than 44% of households need some sort of accessibility feature like grab bars, no-step entrances or widened hallways. Yet fewer than 4% of residential units contain such features for people with even moderate mobility disabilities; only 1% have adequate features for people with more severe disabilities.

For many, maintaining their home can be just as difficult as navigating it. Habitat’s Aging in Place program helps residents address both by offering assistance with necessary upkeep like painting, cleaning gutters and repairing porches, as well as more person-specific modifications like building a

wheelchair ramp or installing handrails. Building or repairing and adapting a home to fit the needs of its residents is integral to helping them improve their quality of life and providing the sense of comfort only home can provide.

5. Is safe

Home should be a refuge against the threats of the outside world, whether that’s protection during a storm or shelter during a pandemic. It is absolutely essential to welfare and well-being. But for too many, home has become a place to escape from — not to. Exposed wires, doors that don’t lock, railings that aren’t high enough.

In addition to these kinds of everyday disasters, we know that those already struggling are the ones usually hit hardest when natural disasters strike. Every person deserves the protection that a safe and durable home provides, and so we work with families to help them repair and improve their existing homes and to prepare for and recover from life’s unexpected storms.

Foundation for a better future

Mirosław, a potato farmer in a village in central Poland, and his wife, Agata, longed for their children to have space of their own. That goal drove them to build something new with Habitat Poland and Global Village volunteers.

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