I started volunteer work with the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity early this year (on a no fee Pro Bono basis). As I worked with the leadership of Habitat it was clear the organization has a real desire to do more to resolve the high prevalence of substandard housing in Lima and Allen County. Habitat provides a wonderful service by building one or two houses each year and providing an interest free mortgage to families that qualify to meet the responsibility of home ownership.
However, the demand for decent affordable quality single family houses exceeds the current ability of Habitat for Humanity to construct more homes due primarily to the absence of a reliable stream of funding. I offered the leadership of Habitat for Humanity to develop a project that would raise the issue in the minds of public and private sector leaders. The initial step of the project involved my contacting numerous individuals and organizational leaders in the public and private sectors within this community to pose the following questions and statements:
1: Do you believe that Lima and Allen County have a serious problem of substandard housing?
2: Do you understand the individuals that occupy substandard housing experience a higher utilization rate of hospital emergency departments and have a higher rate of preventable hospital admissions?
3: Lifestyle conditions that contribute to the high utilization of health-care resources and to the ever increasing cost of health care are known as “social determinants of health.” Substandard housing is one of the social determinants of health.
4: Do you agree that Habitat for Humanity is a readily available solution to these related problems?
Healthcare systems and health insurance carriers have recognized the direct impact of substandard housing upon the health of individuals and the total cost of care. Consequently, several of these organizations are investing significant sums of money across America to address the social determinants of health, with housing receiving the largest percentage of the investment. Why isn’t that happening in our community?
In the open market it would cost over $150,000 to build a 1,500 square foot house. Habitat for Humanity will build that same house for half of that cost. It does so through its partnerships with corporations that donate building materials and appliances and uses experienced volunteer labor for the construction. If one looked only at the financial portion of this effort it is easy to see that one could not find a better return on each invested dollar. However, there is much more involved than just financial matters.
Families that qualify for a home built by Habitat for Humanity become contributors to the good of their neighborhood and community at large. Homeownership brings a sense of pride and self worth. In addition, by moving out of what may be a substandard living condition, the overall health of the family members can improve.
There is more. With the necessary funding in place, Habitat for Humanity will also repair and rehabilitate existing homes in Lima and Allen County. This factor multiplies the investment impact over a broader spectrum of need than it would by just building new homes. Here is an example: Two Million Dollars ($2 million) could provide the funding to build 20 new single family houses and repair and rehabilitate up to 75 existing homes. That is a total of 95 families that can have their lives changed in a direct and meaningful way. Think about how that will change the definition and the perception of our community.
I hope that you will join me by supporting Habitat for Humanity - Lima area in their effort to meet the needs of “The Least of These”
Richard Maye is president of Strategic Integration Solutions, Ltd. in Elida