A Place to Live



  As I stand on a high up on a ladder against the side of the house under construction I think “It’s a good thing I am in college because if I had to paint houses for a living I would certainly starve.” I am just not very good at it.  I am helping (well a little at least) build a home for Habitat for Humanity in the Villas Esperanza community.  Working on houses is part of the process for obtaining a home with Habitat for Humanity. It is known as “sweat equity” and a potential home owner needs to complete 100 volunteer hours working on houses before they can apply for their own home in the community. Sweat equity is one way in which the potential homeowners for a habitat house are screened. Those who are unwilling to work cannot get homes. Home owners must be willing to work 400 hours of sweat equity in order to earn a home in the community. New homeowners must attend classes to learn about home ownership and budgeting. In return they earn a home with a zero-interest mortgage loans.   

            One Habitat for Humanity flyers says that 1.2 million people in this state are living in substandard housing. Habitat for humanity fills this need by focuses on developing affordable houses for working families. They are also geared toward helping first time home owners. The applicants must be have jobs and pass rigorous credit checks ( just like anybody else trying to buy a home) but the homes they are attempting to buy cost around ninety thousand dollars.  Other homes in the same area are fetching around $200,000 or more. The homes offered are three and four bedroom layouts and max out at close to 1500 square feet in size.    

            The neighborhood being constructed is in South Phoenix off 15th Avenue and Southern and is around 100 homes.  A much larger habitat for humanity community ( of around 200 homes) is located off 16th Street and St Catherine. When you enter a habitat community you might not even realize it. The homes may not cost a fortune but they do look nice and like any other new community… well not exactly. The Habitat communities have COLOR. Unlike many other new communities were colors are feared and outlawed by restrictive Home Owners Associations (HOAs), habitat will not allow two adjacent homes to be painted the same color! The designers of the community have eight approved color choices and eight trim colors as well.  Another difference is that two of the same floor plans can not be placed adjacent to each other. The design differences and colors give the neighborhoods personality. Many of the designers of the overpriced neighborhoods nearby could learn something by taking a trip to a habitat community. Even though “The first section of the Urban Land Institutes residential planning handbook encourages builders not to use the “cookie-cutter” approach, applying old products on new locations.” that is what’s happening in many of the communities being constructed in South Phoenix and around the habitat community.  (Blake and Arreola, Page 1)   

           It seems as though the Habitat for Humanity neighborhoods are actual  communities.  The habitat staff told us a story about how the residents of the neighborhood arranged to guard the communities building supplies that were being stolen. The residents of Villas Esperanzas are also said to be very active in the local parent teacher associations.  I find this interesting because many neighborhoods within South Phoenix and the Metropolitan area are attempting to define their identity as communities. I can think of a few reasons why the community identity has formed in Villas Esperanzas and not in other neighborhoods.  First, of all the people in the neighborhood know one another from their classes and “sweat equity” work. Many people in other neighborhoods don’t even know their own neighbors.  Second, these people have worked together and accomplished something difficult: building a home. The residents of Villas Esperanzas have shared experiences with their neighbors even before they move in. Often residents in other neighborhoods don’t have anything in common. Third, most new communities are defined by their HOA’s rules, which tend to be divisive and punitive. The HOA ‘s rules often pit neighbors against each other in order to maintain resale values of their homes.  The frame work for developing and putting into practice a neighborhood concept of “how can we help each other?” is built into the process of becoming a resident of Villas Esperanza.  



Arreola and Blake, 1996.”Residential Subdivision Identity in Metropolitan Phoenix”  Landscape Journal 15(1)


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