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June 03, 2003

Curse You, Habitat For Humanity!

I cannot tell you how much personal inner strength it took me to reject Habitat For Humanity's new Poverty Theme Park for inclusion into The Book of the Dumb. Because, truth to tell, it's a friggin' horrible idea: "See life-size Habitat houses from countries around the world. Learn about the devastating effects of poverty. Try your hand at making compressed-earth blocks or roof tile." All for five bucks (four for seniors and three for the kids).

Sure, it's a cheap day out, but if you get the kids all riled up by telling them they're headed to a theme park and then force them to make bricks all day long, well, that's years of therapy right there. This a place for People Who Mean Well, and unfortunately most People Who Mean Well have had their sense of fun leached out through years of empathy, folk tunes and hammering crossbeams. Most likely the kids will ask if they can just stay home, so you can get them the souvenir that says "My Parents Went to the Global Village and Discovery Center And All I Got Was This Organically Printed T-Shirt Made From Hemp."

No Joke: There's a "Living in Poverty Area." "Experience firsthand the conditions poor people in the world today," the site proclaims, thankfully leaving off the expected exclamation point. Well, hell; if I want to experience that, I'll just hang out in front of the Wal-Mart.

But I just can't bring myself to include this in the Book of the Dumb. Because it's Habitat For Humanity, for God's sake, and making fun of Habitat For Humanity is like kicking your sweet ol' grandmama. They build houses! For poor people! For fun! Well, or whatever it is that passes for fun for these folks. I'm sure that someone somewhere has something bad to say about Habitat For Humanity, probably someone who'd call some grindingly poor Habitat For Humanity house recipient a "lucky ducky" for getting a new home cheap, or someone who's convinced Jimmy Carter is the true source of all evil in the world today. But I'm just not one of those people. I just can't do it.

Curse you, Habitat For Humanity! Curse your fundamental goodness! You're spoiling my fun! Arrgh! I mean, really. For all the fun I'm having, I might as well just make a brick.

Posted by john at June 3, 2003 02:26 PM

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Comments

Tripp | June 3, 2003 03:33 PM

The Habitat for Humanity's Poverty Theme Park kinda reminds me of Nachos - Flander's style. Sliced cucumbers with cottage cheese.

Kurt Haslbauer | June 4, 2003 10:34 AM

Well, look at it this way . . . after one trip to the Poverty Theme Park, your kids would be forever broken of the "Are we there yet?" habit.

Ruth W | June 5, 2003 05:04 AM

John, I would be very glad to restore your fun by explaining why, based on my experience working in the affordable housing field, I think Habitat for Humanity sucks. Lets look at some statements from their website :

"Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry."

In practice this means that they practice evangelism among their volunteers and clients (e.g., by presenting them with bibles at the ribbon-cutting of their new homes).

"Habitat invites people of all backgrounds, races and religions to build houses together in partnership with families in need."

Yes, so long as they are willing to put up with all the Christian palaver.

"Habitat for Humanity's work is accomplished at the community level by affiliates -- independent, locally run, nonprofit organizations. Each affiliate coordinates all aspects of Habitat home building in its local area The affiliate's family selection committee chooses homeowners based on their level of need, their willingness to become partners in the program and their ability to repay the no-interest loan. Every affiliate follows a nondiscriminatory policy of family selection. Neither race nor religion is a factor in choosing the families who receive Habitat houses. "

In practice, this means that the local affiliates are rather loosely supervised by the national office, and there have been cases where they did indeed discriminate on the basis of race, religion, and whether they thought certain people in their community were more morally deserving of decent housing than others.

"The HFHI headquarters office operates with an administrative staff, assisted by a core group of professional and support employees and supplemented by long-term and short-term volunteers. Each Habitat for Humanity affiliate is managed by its own local volunteer board." As most people are aware of, Habitat also relies on volunteers and homeowners to do the unskilled construction work on its houses.

This means that Habitat spends a lot of money recruiting, organizing, transporting, and training mostly short-term volunteers instead of using that same money to fund full-time living-wage construction jobs in the impoverished communities where the housing construction is taking place.

"Habitat for Humanity International is not a government agency, nor does it accept government funds for the construction of houses. However, Habitat considers all levels of government and governmental agencies important partners in its mission to eliminate poverty housing. We encourage governments to do what they can to help alleviate the suffering of all those who have no decent, adequate place to live.
Habitat for Humanity welcomes partnerships with governments to help "set the stage" for the construction of houses. Stage-setting funding and gifts might include land, houses for rehabilitation, infrastructure for streets, utilities and administrative expenses."

Aside from the evangelical Christianity, this is why conservatives love Habitat. Habitat focuses on private donations as a funding source (80% of income in 2002) and merely "encourages" government agencies to fund housing. This dovetails perfectly with the conservative belief that government has no fundamental responsibility to provide for its citizens' basic needs, and that voluntary charity should be the source of such assistance. You will never catch Habitat people saying that housing is a human right.

In practice, Habitat is perfectly willing to encourage and accept set-asides from the federal budget. They do not engage in competitive federal grant applications. I wonder if they would be able to secure government funding in a competitive process?

Habitat spends a huge amount of money on self-promotion (7% of expenses in 2002). I am not aware of any other national or local housing organization that has a separate line item for publicity in its annual report. This is why you probably have never heard of any other national housing organization, such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the McAuley Institute, the Enterprise Foundation, LISC, the Housing Assistance Council, Mercy Housing, etc., etc.

On the rare occasions when Habitat cooperates with other housing organizations, they hog the limelight.

Finally, many Habitat people are self-righteous and pompous, and they get on my last nerve.

Ruth W | June 5, 2003 05:04 AM

John, I would be very glad to restore your fun by explaining why, based on my experience working in the affordable housing field, I think Habitat for Humanity sucks. Lets look at some statements from their website :

"Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian housing ministry."

In practice this means that they practice evangelism among their volunteers and clients (e.g., by presenting them with bibles at the ribbon-cutting of their new homes).

"Habitat invites people of all backgrounds, races and religions to build houses together in partnership with families in need."

Yes, so long as they are willing to put up with all the Christian palaver.

"Habitat for Humanity's work is accomplished at the community level by affiliates -- independent, locally run, nonprofit organizations. Each affiliate coordinates all aspects of Habitat home building in its local area The affiliate's family selection committee chooses homeowners based on their level of need, their willingness to become partners in the program and their ability to repay the no-interest loan. Every affiliate follows a nondiscriminatory policy of family selection. Neither race nor religion is a factor in choosing the families who receive Habitat houses. "

In practice, this means that the local affiliates are rather loosely supervised by the national office, and there have been cases where they did indeed discriminate on the basis of race, religion, and whether they thought certain people in their community were more morally deserving of decent housing than others.

"The HFHI headquarters office operates with an administrative staff, assisted by a core group of professional and support employees and supplemented by long-term and short-term volunteers. Each Habitat for Humanity affiliate is managed by its own local volunteer board." As most people are aware of, Habitat also relies on volunteers and homeowners to do the unskilled construction work on its houses.

This means that Habitat spends a lot of money recruiting, organizing, transporting, and training mostly short-term volunteers instead of using that same money to fund full-time living-wage construction jobs in the impoverished communities where the housing construction is taking place.

"Habitat for Humanity International is not a government agency, nor does it accept government funds for the construction of houses. However, Habitat considers all levels of government and governmental agencies important partners in its mission to eliminate poverty housing. We encourage governments to do what they can to help alleviate the suffering of all those who have no decent, adequate place to live.
Habitat for Humanity welcomes partnerships with governments to help "set the stage" for the construction of houses. Stage-setting funding and gifts might include land, houses for rehabilitation, infrastructure for streets, utilities and administrative expenses."

Aside from the evangelical Christianity, this is why conservatives love Habitat. Habitat focuses on private donations as a funding source (80% of income in 2002) and merely "encourages" government agencies to fund housing. This dovetails perfectly with the conservative belief that government has no fundamental responsibility to provide for its citizens' basic needs, and that voluntary charity should be the source of such assistance. You will never catch Habitat people saying that housing is a human right.

In practice, Habitat is perfectly willing to encourage and accept set-asides from the federal budget. They do not engage in competitive federal grant applications. I wonder if they would be able to secure government funding in a competitive process?

Habitat spends a huge amount of money on self-promotion (7% of expenses in 2002). I am not aware of any other national or local housing organization that has a separate line item for publicity in its annual report. This is why you probably have never heard of any other national housing organization, such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the McAuley Institute, the Enterprise Foundation, LISC, the Housing Assistance Council, Mercy Housing, etc., etc.

On the rare occasions when Habitat cooperates with other housing organizations, they hog the limelight.

Finally, many Habitat people are self-righteous and pompous, and they get on my last nerve.

Ruth W | June 5, 2003 05:06 AM

Oops, sorry I accidentally clicked "submit" twice.