Shortly after the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, I read his words regarding how we help others. He said, “We must stop pulling people out of the river and move upstream to find out why they are falling in.”
That simple statement beautifully exemplifies Habitat for Humanity’s mission. Habitat meets people’ upstream,’ guiding them away from Tutu’s proverbial river and onto a solid path to stability, self-reliance, and a successful future.
At the close of a recent engagement, a gentleman in the audience, let’s call him Jim, commented that the benefit of building a house (for one family) didn’t justify the financial investment. Jim assumed that Habitat’s mission was about a house. It isn’t about the house, Jim. It is about what the house makes possible.
The children of low-income homeowners are 19% more likely to graduate high school than their peers that rent. Moreover, a modest $10,000 increase in family wealth (achieved by home equity gains) raises college attendance by a whopping 14%!
Becoming a homeowner as a lower-income individual fills several critical areas in the framework of a thriving community. Specifically access to healthcare and quality education, financial stability, family wealth, and community engagement.
When housing costs don’t overburden a household, dollars are available to buy more nutritious food and preventative healthcare. In addition, the home contributes to better health with improved air quality, relieves overcrowding, and eliminates hazards, like lead dust, malfunctioning sanitation, and electrical systems, often found in low-cost rentals. Better health means fewer school and work absences and more educational and job opportunities leading to successful academic and career outcomes.
Finally, a robust body of research indicates that homeowners are more engaged with their community than renters- 1.3 times more. Homeowners stay in their communities longer and have a direct financial interest, through property values, in improving or maintaining the quality of life there. They are more likely to vote in local elections and participate in civic organizations and neighborhood groups.
But let’s keep it simple. If you want a healthy, educated, populous engaged in creating a vibrant, prosperous community, it is time to make housing affordable for all of us.