LISTEN to this while you read if you’d like (Note: This is highly recommended)
Habitat for Humanity just received a gift of $100 million dollars, the largest single gift they have ever received (Link to the story). When you think about housing, you probably think of Habitat. It is certainly the most well known of housing organizations. Powered by the sweat equity model, Habitat is an extremely effective way of providing home ownership to low and moderate income families across the world.
While I applaud Mr. Terwilliger’s (a real estate investor and developer) gift and generosity, it makes me think about some of the lessons we’ve all learned from the recent real estate crash. While I support the mission of Habitat, it does not solve all the problems in the housing arena. It is an extremely important piece of the puzzle, but so is affordable renting. I think it has become clear that home ownership is not appropriate for all families. The sub-prime and predatory lending that was so prevelant in the last decade has ruined a lot of lives and has contributed to our current economic debacle. Unjustified risk-based pricing, discriminatory lending practices and issuances of single premium credit insurance has placed many low-income families in impossible situations. The (collapse of the) securitization of the subsequent loans into mortgage backed securities on the other side has cost investors and banks untold billions.
The Caleb Foundation is a non-profit housing developing and management organization whose mission is to develop, preserve and manage rental communities so as to provide safe, decent housing to low and moderate income residents. The most current research on homelessness and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs both promote the housing first model for decreasing homelessness. This model, as opposed to the the emergency shelter model, attempts to house families as quickly as possible in affordable rental housing, often assisting them to secure their own lease and make the initial payments. Research suggests that for many people, this model yields more effective outcomes more efficiently (cheaper!) (policy brief, abstract, other links). While I have not conducted a thorough literature review on housing policy, and while it is clear that this model doesn’t work for everyone, it is becoming clear that there is a dire need for affordable rental housing. Ownership is not for everyone and shelters don’t seem to be as effective as permanent housing. In a time like this, the work of organizations like The Caleb Foundation is more necessary than ever before.
At The Caleb Foundation, we believe that peace, justice and familial development are predicated on the availability of a safe decent place that a family can call their own. Housing research suggests that ownership is not the answer for everyone and homelessness research suggests that shelters are less effective than apartments at getting a family in homelessness up off their feet. I believe that every family in this country should have their own safe decent place to call home. Even the idea of home is central to the American dream. However, this does not mean that families should buy a home they can not afford. It does mean that organizations like The Caleb Foundation fill an extremely necessary gap in the answer to homelessness.
“I dream of a home up yonder, where loved ones are waiting for me… Oh Let me Go Home, yeah, I wanna Go Home”