Habitat for Humanity in South Phoenix

           In South Phoenix, affordable housing is a major component in strengthening the community but, to some, the presence of low income planned communities, such as that of South Ranch are a source of concern, since some feel that they perpetuate blight and increase crime rates in the area.  In the 2004 Arizona Republic article Habitat South Community Breaks All Rules, Executive Director Christine Odom of Habitat for Humanity, Valley of the Sun, states that, “These people have waited too long to become homeowners.  They aren’t going to wreck them.”   Odom later reflected on the current condition of these neighborhoods by saying, “There are no sagging porches or carports.  Sidewalks are swept clean, a Block Watch is beating back gangs who want to take over the park, and the community’s strong association enforces strict rules about home maintenance.”

            Habitat for Humanity is an independent and locally run non-profit organization that builds housing for low income families.  Habitat was founded in 1976 by a Georgia businessman and was largely brought to national attention by being supported by former President Jimmy Carter.  The organization is built through coalitions of various organizations and groups such as in government agencies, corporations and foundations, as well as educational institutions that provide monetary donations, land grants and above all a workforce of dedicated volunteers.  Even future residents of Habitat homes are required to fulfill 400 hours of so called “sweat equity” work.  Sweat equity work consists of the following, 100 hours of sweat equity within three months (before lot/home selection) by members of the prospective household, and at least 300 additional hours before you move into your home (Requirements and Responsibilities for prospective habitat homeowners, 2002).  In other words, future homeowners will have a chance to take part in building their community by developing friendships with fellow neighbors and Habitat staff.  This cooperative team effort, combined with other values and beliefs like optimism, respect, appreciation and humor and fun, all round out the Habitat mission statement to help those who need it most.

              I saw this first hand when I took part in building a Habitat Home at the South Ranch development in South Phoenix, one of the largest and nationally known affordable housing developments in the nation.  My class arrived early one morning and were directed to take part in a number of projects that were currently underway.  A group of people including myself were instructed to help put up trusses on one particular house.  It was my first time working construction, so I knew little about what I was expected to do, but jumped right in anyway.  I did a little nailing at first, but later was instructed to hand the workers truss spacers so they could be nailed into place as the roof support was being put on.  This took awhile, since putting the roof support on is a lengthy task.  But, later I took a break from my previous duty and helped move some trusses by hand to other parts of the house and yard.  All in all, it was really fun and interesting to be a part of building a house and also to see what a group of people can do when they work together in a cooperative effort.  It goes to show that the mission that Habitat has is quit effective and helps build and maintain community spirit and pride.

Learning From South Phoenix   Tom Haas