World Habitat Day: Why Housing Matters

World Habitat Day is a designated day each year that recognizes the basic right of all humanity to adequate shelter and encourages grass roots action toward enduring poverty housing. We are posting a series of blogs written from different perspectives that illustrate the importance of a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Blog post by: Dawkins Hodges, Vice President of Programs, Habitat LA

dawkins-blog-1Growing up in Florida in the 1950’s and 60’s my parents were determined to own our family’s home.  My dad was a WWII Navy Vet who worked in the space industry so we moved around the state every three years or so due to government contracts. Each time we moved, my parents sold our house and bought another one in the new city.  They were almost always “fixer-uppers”.  At the time I did not realize what this meant for me and my sister but now I know it enabled us to live in neighborhoods with good schools, it provided stability which is missing in some rental situations, we had privacy as a family and as children and there was always a place for relatives to come visit.

dawkins-blog-2Later I was a Presbyterian missionary in Bangladesh where housing was quite different from what I was used to.  For many people the materials available for building included woven plant materials, bamboo frames and thatch or tin for the roof which did not protect the household from thieves who would reach in during the night or from the wind that would send material flying.  Families would celebrate the installation of concrete floors that kept people and animals from burrowing in from the outside, were happy when they could add solid walls and frames that added strength and stability and provided solid attachments for a  metal roof that could withstand 50-70 mph winds.  Land ownership and other rights also made a home the place for rest and family time at the end of the day.  (Years later I also enjoyed being part of Friendship Build in 2012 where we built brick houses with Habitat Bangladesh.)

My personal experience has shaped how I see the importance of working to assure that everyone has a decent place to live.  Housing, which is in reach of the household’s income, is an international desire of billions of people.  Owning that structure often connects neighbors as community through a mindset that indicates folks intend to stay for a while.  Investing in home helps us lay claim to something that requires hard work but also reflects our values, passions and concerns for others.  Through the Habitat model we bring communities together to both build and finance the house while we also support the new owners with preparation, knowledge and affordability.  We call it love.  It is our offering of the best of who we are so others have a chance to grasp opportunity.

After thirty years of working in community development and especially affordable housing I’ve had a chance to both go back and see the results of previous work and reflect on what my parents gave me.  As we see at many Habitat kick-offs and dedications, I too get tears in my eyes and find it hard to fully express how grateful I am.  As a kid I was able to grow securely and make the choices I did because of the determination of my parents.  After being away from Bangladesh for 10 years I went back to see how the communities we worked in had fared.  As I walked around I saw the houses were even stronger and reflected the pride of the family, the children were obviously healthier,  the animals were bigger, the water systems were functional, etc.  Together we are all more resilient when we work together to provide the basic foundation of our lives:  a place to call home.  On World Habitat Day I celebrate home and all that it offers me and neighbors all around the world.