Posted by Lauren
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By Marianne Lynch, Executive Director

I was just reading about an Urban Institute study that found that in every single state in the US, there is not enough affordable housing to meet the needs of extremely low, low, and moderate income households.*  In Montgomery County alone, there are 22 units available for every 100 low-income families seeking housing.  This means that there are 78 others who do not have a safe, decent, affordable place to call home.

That is a fact that has weighed heavily on my mind in recent days…As I think about Habitat’s long-term strategies to serve more families, I sometimes despair over the number of homes needed for an ever-growing gap of families trying to find and afford a place to live. For me, this conversation becomes personal, as I think about how their kids struggle in school because they have to move from place to place, and how the places themselves might not be habitable and decent since demand far exceeds supply.  I think about how families who are already struggling to get by have an added burden of unaffordable housing costs, often leading to stress and discord within the family unit. I also start thinking about the number of homes Habitat will provide to future homeowners this year (3) and how many we will repair to keep families in their homes (21) and I feel a little overwhelmed.

How can one small, local Habitat for Humanity make a difference in the face of such daunting numbers? How can we provide enough homes to help these low-to-moderate income families out of this vicious cycle?

The truth is, we can’t…at least not alone. To deal with a crisis of this magnitude in our community, our state, and our country, it will take everyone. Everyone focused on the fact that there is a crisis and that it impacts us all. Families who do not have a stable place to live often enter the shelter system. Their kids often have trouble in school due to the added stress, they have trouble meeting their financial obligations, there is greater absenteeism at work, leading to a downward spiral of unemployment, illness and more. Communities dealing with a housing crisis have to put more resources into rental regulations and code enforcement, and states must invest dollars in managing a crisis rather than creating solutions. Solutions, large and small, are what’s needed to deal with this crisis long-term.

I believe that everyone can help provide solutions in some small way.  At Habitat, you can help us build and repair more homes by:

  • Volunteering
  • Making meals for the construction site
  • Donating items to the ReStore
  • Supporting Habitat financially
  • Providing materials or expertise to the build site.

In addition, if you have some legal expertise, you can help Habitat obtain abandon and blighted property that can be rehabbed as affordable housing or help Habitat obtain land on which to build.  Helping in these ways allows us to develop more homes, reducing that number from 78 to something much lower. 

There are so many ways that everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, can help solve this crisis. Visit our website to get additional ideas: www.habitatmontco.org.

In addition to supporting Habitat in its efforts to provide more homes, you can help other organizations that are doing this work as part of Your Way Home Montgomery County – many need volunteers, expertise and funding. Here is a link to their site to find out more: http://yourwayhome.org/

Also, you can bring attention to the problem with your local officials.  Ask that it be part of the conversation in your state and during this election cycle. Support of programs like the federal HOME grant, designed to develop more affordable housing, and AmeriCorps help move the needle too.  Keeping these in place will help break this cycle.  The PA Housing Alliance has great information on how to get involved: http://www.housingalliancepa.org/

Rather than being discouraged by the sheer number of people in need, I choose to focus on one family at a time and for them, Habitat makes a difference. With your help, there will be more homes available each year and our impact will grow. 

Most importantly though, don’t think that because you are just one person, you cannot make a difference…everyone can.