We walk into the apartment and our eyes immediately fall on two little girls in matching red shirts. One of the girls, Aryana, tells us she and her sister are in kindergarten. Made brave by this announcement, she draws out a beat-up, beet-red toy cell phone from a holster near her hip and hands it to me to admire. I tell her that it’s nicer than my phone, and her laugh reveals a front-tooth-less grin. Her dad, Michael, a clearly kind and gentle soul, tenderly tells the girls that the adults need to sit down to talk. As we gather around the living room, the girls continue to periodically come over and touch their father’s hand or arm or knee in soft gestures of childish love.
While the atmosphere is made safe by the small family’s love, the apartment itself is anything but. Our short tour of the apartment reveals a stray bullet hole in the living room window, an air conditioning unit teetering precariously in a molding wall, and a decaying kitchen floor that lurches dangerously under our weight. Michael pays $150 more per month for this apartment than he would for his Habitat mortgage. What’s more, Michaels’ situation is far from an anomaly— in any given year, we will visit dozens of apartments as substandard as, if not worse than, Michael’s. These home visits—a requirement to be accepted into our housing program— never fail to remind us of the enormity of the need for safe, decent housing in our community.
While it can be daunting to acknowledge the extent of the need in our community for safe housing, Habitat also knows that we can change— and have changed— the landscape of affordable housing in this city one house at a time. Housing is a central concern for all families, everywhere. Home is the central place where families conduct their lives. It is where they get ready to have a successful day at school or work, where they come together to eat meals, and where they lay their heads at night. So much more than a mere structure, our home is the very context of our lives. In a recent survey, we asked our homeowners to share their observations about changes in their children’s health since moving into their Habitat home. Of those who responded, 72% reported a decrease in illnesses like asthma and allergies in their children since moving into their Habitat homes. One homeowner wrote: “We are stable now. We are not moving from place to place, always keeping half of our stuff in boxes. My son no longer has asthma attacks from mold and dirty carpets… My daughter is playing outside more.” Perhaps the most significant investment we can make towards a strong community is in one of the most basic needs that exists: a safe, stable home to call one’s own.