Building-the-Block to achieve affordable, sustainable homeownership and neighborhoods
Intro by John Ahmann: Thanks to Lisa Gordon, Atlanta Habitat for Humanity’s President and CEO, for this week’s column. Habitat for Humanity’s model is a great proof point of the “ Atlanta Habitat is now the largest nonprofit, affordable single-family housing developers in the City, and they are one of 1,500 local affiliates across the world. We are blessed to have on the Westside Future Fund’s Board of Director a former Senior Vice President of Habitat for Humanity International, Liz Blake. She has brought to our work best practices of Habitat, most importantly building self-reliance and collaborating with the community. She and her husband Frank have also been philanthropic investors in Atlanta Habitat for Humanity’s Brush with Kindness Program in our target neighborhoods. We will be formally announcing this partnership, and results to date, at our Transform Westside Summit meeting this Friday, where Lisa is also our featured program speaker. As we strive to build a community Dr. King would be proud to call home, we have no better partner to deliver high-quality single-family housing for working low-income families than Atlanta Habitat. On behalf of the Westside Future Fund (WFF), we only hope to be more of Atlanta Habitat’s “we” to accelerate more of what they do so well.
Affordable housing is on everybody’s mind in Atlanta. And it’s rightly so given that rental costs across the region have nearly doubled from what they were in 2010; and in Atlanta, some 100,000 people are paying over 30 percent of their income on housing. If you add transportation costs, then that percent becomes much higher. Across the nation, many communities are struggling to provide housing options in their communities. In Atlanta, we share that struggle.
For Atlanta Habitat for Humanity, affordable housing—homeownership to be more precise— is our north star. For 35 years we have been helping limited-income families to purchase their first home and provide a decent, safe place for them to live in Atlanta. Today, we are laser-focused on investing in the long-term, sustainable growth of our families and neighborhoods.
Shortly after my arrival at Atlanta Habitat in 2015, I attended a house dedication. As I drove through the neighborhood, I passed homes that were not being maintained. I saw blighted properties. I met seniors who have been in their homes for years, trying to fix up their properties. As I later stood on the front porch of our new house to thank the house sponsors and volunteers, and to congratulate the new homebuyer, I thought: we can do more here—for our new homeowner family and this neighborhood. But we can’t do it alone.
Atlanta Habitat now serves more new families each year than ever since that first drive through the neighborhood. We are revitalizing neighborhoods with our affordable homeownership program, the purchase of blighted properties, and our critical repair programs that help seniors and military veterans to fix up their houses.
Several of the 100 neighborhoods in which we are doing this work are on the westside. We are building-the-block with the help of partners such as one in which I’m most proud: Brush with Kindness on the Westside in partnership with Westside Future Fund helps legacy residents in targeted neighborhoods to paint their homes and complete minor repairs. This may appear minor to some, but for a homeowner who may be struggling on a limited income to secure basic needs, buy medications and pay property taxes, it’s a godsend. As their neighborhood is changing around them, their homes are being improved as well at no cost to them. Equally important is they continue to live in their affordable home.
Westside Future Fund and Atlanta Habitat have similar missions to address Atlanta’s affordable housing crisis. A longtime friend of Habitat and westside advocate, Liz Blake, was instrumental in helping us to create this partnership. John Ahmann and I both know that this work is a heavy lift. We are thankful for the leadership of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and a collective of partners—Arthur Blank Foundation, Chick-fil-A, The Home Depot, Novelis, and others—who are dedicated to housing affordability and protecting and helping our neighbors to remain in their homes amidst this rapid growth in our city.
Affordable housing should remain front and center, a call to action, until it is a reality again in Atlanta. As the city’s largest nonprofit affordable homebuilder, Atlanta Habitat will continue to do its part to keep our neighborhoods affordable and vibrant for everyone.
Lisa Y. Gordon