Habitat Launches Affordable Housing Push

Habitat for Humanity assisted the New York Mets in celebrating the team’s 2017 home opener on Monday, framing a home out in front of Citi Field and enjoying a strong organizational presence around the ballpark. The organization also participated in the official “unlocking of the gate” to the stadium the day prior.

The festivities served as a means of creating buzz around Habitat’s Home is the Key campaign, an affordable-housing awareness effort that will span the month of April, according to Habitat CEO Jonathan Reckford.

The ballpark presence made sense on a number of different levels, Reckford said shortly after the Mets’ opener was underway. People generally start thinking about their homes in the springtime, the goal of baseball is to get home, and there is excitement associated with the start of the baseball season, Reckford said.

The impetus for the campaign stems from a need to bring awareness to America’s affordable housing crisis, Reckford said, adding that he was surprised by how invisible the issue is given the need that exists. One-quarter of Americans spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing and working fulltime in a minimum-wage job will not enable one to afford a one-bedroom apartment in most states. Two fulltime minimum-wage jobs generally cannot cover the cost of a two-bedroom apartment.

Housing costs have been an issue in America for many years, according to Reckford, but matters have become worse since the national recession. Land prices, the primary driver of housing costs, have accelerated during the economic recovery of the past six or seven years and incomes have not caught up — reducing affordability.

The primary objectives of the campaign are awareness and education, Reckford said — highlighting the importance of explaining how affordable housing is interconnected with other public focuses such as health and education. This is especially true given the increased economic segregation of society, creating situations in which many individuals might not know of the housing crisis. An investment in health, he said, without addressing housing fails to realize the full benefits of health initiative.

Further, related educational goals then fail to be met and job opportunities do not improve without improved educational outcomes. “The heart of it, what we’ve learned from our research, is that people care more about housing when they understand how housing brings strength and self-reliance to families,” said Reckford.

The campaign comes during a time in which affordable housing has entered the national conversation, both in the aftermath of the warehouse fire in Oakland, Calif., that killed 36 inhabitants late last year and federal budget proposals that seek to make cuts to programs such as Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing. “Our hope is that it was already an urgent issue and that [the budget proposal] increases the timeliness and urgency of it,” Reckford said. “The public campaign is really higher on awareness and we really encourage people to get around a social conversation.” The organization has sought to foster the conversation with the hashtag #HomeIsTheKey.

Awareness, he said, is a means of tilling the ground for advocacy efforts that inform policy. Much of land use is about federal, state, and particularly local policies. Without awareness and education, it is difficult to build support around policies, according to Reckford. Additional events Habitat has planned for this month include teaming with HSN Cares and country-music stars to build a home in Tampa, Fla. The campaign will culminate in Habitat’s home city of Atlanta, Ga. with a partnership between Nissan, the Heisman Trophy Trust, and past Heisman – college football’s highest individual award – winners to construct a home.

The long-term goal is to make April a month of affordable-housing awareness in the years to come. Partners who will not be participating this year have already expressed interest in 2018. “We hope that this is something we can build on over the years, using all of Habitat’s assets to build attention,” Reckford said.

For more information about affordable housing and the campaign, visit: https://www.habitat.org/support/home-is-the-key.