Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona Repairing homes, reviving communities
Monday, July 15, 2019
By Catie Richman
Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona has been serving Maricopa County and parts of Pinal County since 1985. A locally run affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International, the nonprofit envisions a world where everyone has safe and secure housing. In fact, more than 1,100 homes have been built or renovated by the organization since it was founded.
“Habitat is probably most known for building affordable homes. But over the years, we’ve learned that affordable home repair is also important for families that want to stay in their homes, or maybe don’t need a new home,” said Dusty Parsons, director of marketing and communications. “So we’ve expanded our portfolio to include affordable home repairs. When you do that in one area, it becomes neighborhood revitalization or stabilization.”
Repairs can range from minor to major, including landscaping, painting, roofing and even window replacement for energy efficiency and to help lower electric bills and make houses more affordable to maintain.
“It’s a huge economic impact to a family to make some of these repairs,” said Jason Barlow, president and CEO of the organization. “It can also have a health impact. By fixing these homes, kids are healthier and going to school more regularly. And parents have a lot more cash in their pocket.”
Directly south of downtown sits one of Phoenix’s first suburbs, Central City South. The community has deep roots, with many multigenerational families living in the same houses their parents and even grandparents lived. With an average family income of around $20,000 per year, the neighborhood falls below the poverty line.
“Our mission is bringing God’s people together to build homes, communities and hope. That’s why this Central City South area fits so perfectly, because it’s not only homes — it’s a larger community,” said Barlow. “A lot of hope is needed down there because residents tell us they felt like it’s ‘the land that time forgot.’”
Over the past decades, Central City South residents have watched downtown Phoenix transform. But as the city center thrives, seemingly all investments have halted just a block north, leaving the community in a state of neglect. Habitat has stepped in to restore, repair and revive Central City South and is working to change the cycle that has caused residents to feel forgotten.
In 2018, Habitat pledged a long-term commitment to renovate and rebuild 80 homes in the area just south of downtown Phoenix, including Grant Park, Central Park, Matthew Henson and the 7-11 Neighborhood.
The positive impact of Habitat’s presence goes beyond repairing houses to igniting community spirit. As a part of the program, qualifying families pay for their home repairs through “sweat-equity.”
“They’re out painting, they’re working, they’re helping alongside the volunteers and contractors. They have hours they have to contribute back,” Barlow said. “We like to say Habitat is a hand up, not a handout. So that community is actually working on each other’s homes in this area.”
Habitat, along with hundreds of volunteers, has also done extensive work to rebuild community gardens in Central City South so neighbors and families can gather and socialize in a communal space.
Since March 2018, Habitat has helped more than 50 families in Central City South. As part of its commitment, the organization is planning to build 29 new homes in the next three years. But the work is far from over — and they cannot do it alone.
“The future is trying to find more resources, companies and people that want to get involved in this effort,” Barlow said.
Downtown-based companies like Cowley Companies and WebPT have already stepped up to help their neighboring community and Habitat hopes other corporations will follow suit.
“When you’re out in these neighborhoods, you look up at these buildings and it’s such a dichotomy economically and socially between these areas,” Barlow said. “My conviction is to get as many of these businesses in downtown Phoenix to muster support, to come out and help just a mile away.”
Habitat hopes that by engaging the surrounding community, they will be able to breathe life back into the neighborhood in less time, so that they can carry out their mission and help other communities in need.
“We’ll just continue to move across the neighborhoods because we’re kind of starting in the middle,” Barlow said. “There’s a lot of room to expand west and south to help more neighborhoods, homes and people who need services.”
To learn more about Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona, go to habitatcaz.org.