- - Wednesday, September 6, 2017


It was a great gift to be able to own something like a house and be able to be surrounded by people willing to help me reach this dream.” The speaker is Andrea, a mother of three, one of whom needs 24-hour care. She was giving a tour of her new house, which she with her friends from Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C., had built with her own hands.

Andrea and her children had previously been paying an unaffordable rent for a tiny apartment with no room for her son’s wheelchair and other equipment, among neighbors who complained about her son’s disability. She was facing an impossible situation which every day threatened to get worse if she was evicted. The new home felt like a gift from heaven.

It was Aug. 14 at a showcase and press briefing event held at a construction site in Northeast by a D.C. Habitat project called “Women Build: She Nailed It.”

This program is part of a national effort to address a heartrending national tragedy, namely, the stubborn dilemma of inadequate housing, even homelessness, especially among women with children. (This column has focused before on the doubly tragic circumstance of homelessness among women who are also military veterans. See “Leave no women veterans behind.”) However, the problem is much wider than military veterans. And the problem is spreading, not receding.

Habitat for Humanity, of course, is aiding victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Still, the current recovery from the effects of 10 years of a declining economy have not yet impacted the housing shortages for these families in our cities. “Women Build: She Nailed It” is addressing a real problem with a practical solution.

Habitat for Humanity International survives and flourishes based on a noble purpose uniting people of all races, colors, and faiths, to build something extremely useful. It has been remarkably successful since its founding in 1976. 2016 was the organization’s 40th anniversary. Its 2016 Annual Report shows that 9.8 million people were served in that year, by 1.8 million volunteers, with $1.8 billion in revenues and $2.6 billion in assets.

Habitat’s D.C. affiliate will provide a chance to advance the program’s mission at a Sept. 14 reception for its “Women Build: She Nailed It” campaign to be held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts building in Northwest Washington featuring national headliners. This program highlights the contributions of women committed to bringing the D.C. community together to build affordable housing for underserved families. Currently, the campaign is on track to meet its fund-raising goal of $500,000 to provide permanent, safe, decent homes for five local families.

The brief history of this campaign is impressive. Since its launch on March 8, 2017 (International Women’s Day), more than two dozen all-volunteer construction builds with D.C. Habitat’s corporate and nonprofit partners have been scheduled. The partners include PenFed Credit Union, Avalon Bay, Edgewood, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Kiwanis Club, Leidos and MidCity Financial, among others.

Dignitaries attending the Aug. 14 event included D.C. Habitat President Susanne V. Slater, Deputy D.C. Mayor Courtney Snowden, PenFed Credit Union Executive VP Debbie Ames Naylor and leader of the project’s fund-raising campaign, and D.C. Habitat Board Chair Corinne McIntosh-Douglas. Also on hand was Miss U.S. International 2017, Shanel James, a 2012 graduate of Howard University.  All emphasized the opportunities available to women (themselves being examples) and the perseverance required ultimately to succeed.

The “Women Build” program also addresses a lack of building skills among women by enabling women’s participation in the actual construction of their homes. As Susan Slater explains, “Women in the nation’s capital, especially women who serve as the head of their family, often face obstacles that make escaping poverty seem impossible … By working with families, we offer a hand-up, not a handout. Families work alongside us toward the dream of home ownership that provides a path to the middle class and breaks the cycle of poverty. The work that D.C. Habitat does is transformative and allows families to stop struggling to get by and begin to thrive.”

Since D.C. Habitat’s founding in 1988, more than 200 D.C. homes have been built or rehabilitated, utilizing the help of 2,000-5,000 volunteers each year. D.C. Habitat currently has 44 new homes in its construction pipeline and plans to substantially increase the number of D.C. families served to 450 through homeownership opportunities, critical home repair and counseling by 2020.

D.C. Habitat takes seriously the age-old saying, “Just because you can’t do everything doesn’t mean you can’t do anything!” A lesson to all of us.

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