Summer Reading

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By Marianne Lynch, Executive Director 

In the summertime, anytime I have a few spare moments, you can find me lounging in my plastic Adirondack chair in the shade of my back porch with a good book in hand. Usually it’s something with a hero and a villain and probably set in some historical location like Ireland or Scotland. This summer, however, I am reading something that has been a bit different.

I’ve been reading Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. You may have remembered hearing something about Evicted back in the spring when Mr. Desmond won the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, the National Book Critic’s Circle Award, or when he was the guest speaker at our neighboring Philadelphia Habitat’s annual fundraiser. I had originally heard about the book after he won these awards and was able to listen to an interview with Mr. Desmond about his experiences in Milwaukee. During the interview, he stated what those of us on the front line have known for years: “This is among the most urgent and pressing issues facing America today, and acknowledging the breadth and depth of the problem changes the way we look at poverty.”

For me, the book is not an easy read because the author paints a vivid picture of what it is like to be poor and live in a marginalized neighborhood in several areas throughout Milwaukee. As I fly through the pages, I can see the connections and similarities to the communities here in the northeast. Things like blight, a high number of renters in the community, underfunded school systems, heavy handed and myopic agencies that “follow procedure” at the cost of losing their humanity, and a lack of well-paying jobs could describe so many communities throughout Pennsylvania and beyond.

The second chapter talks about a tenant who is wheelchair bound and disabled living with two teenage sons. He’s about to lose his housing because he is $290 dollars behind on the rent. The reason he’s behind is that he received an extra disability check and, not knowing it was a mistake, he bought his children shoes, food and some clothes. The County required him to repay the money and now he is unable to pay the rent.  But, it is more complicated that just that…his landlord provides housing to a large section of his neighborhood and struggles to collect rent, sharing that her tenants are often in trouble with the law or each other. In this story, Desmond paints a picture where no one is truly good or evil. The tenant became wheelchair-bound because he was high on crack and passed out in an abandoned house, losing both feet to hypothermia. Having learned from that experience, he now acts as a bit of a mentor to the neighborhood boys, playing cards and dispensing advice. The landlord is one of two African American landlords in that area of the city and has a toughness born out of exposure to so many people prompted by desperation. It would be easy to call the landlord heartless or greedy, but the author helps the reader understand that the issues around her decisions are much more complex than we would think.

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2017 Build-A-Thon

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By Cara Przybylowicz, Volunteer and Community Relations Manager

AmeriCorps is a program that is very important to Habitat affiliates all across the country.  Throughout the United States, there are hundreds of AmeriCorps members giving a year of their lives to service with all different affiliates, and in different capacities.  I was lucky enough to meet about 115 members at the AmeriCorps annual Build-A-Thon event a few weeks back!  Each year AmeriCorps and Habitat team up with affiliates to do a week long Blitz Build in one of their communities.

This year, there are 3 full weeks of service happening, two in Des Moines, Iowa, and one in Colorado!  I attended the first week of the Des Moines build as a member of the event staff, and it was such an incredible experience!  Members during this week came from affiliates all over the map, including, Hawaii, North Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and more, and it was great to see them interacting with one another and connecting with their peers!

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What Does "Resident-Driven" Really Mean?

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By Megan Briggs, Director of Family Services

Lately, in the Family Services department, we’ve been increasing our efforts in community organizing in both our Pottstown and Norristown neighborhoods. This work is as difficult, as it is rewarding; especially during a time when voter turnout rates are 15% for elections, and when our nation’s citizens are so politically divided, engagement can feel pointless. However, here at Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County, we persist, and we persist with our values consistent in ensuring that our community organizing efforts are resident-driven, but what does that really mean?

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The "Impact of Stable Housing"

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By Markolline Forkpa, Development and Marketing Associate

When I was in the second grade, my parents made a decision that drastically changed the lives of my older brother, baby brother, and myself. They purchased a home.

Before that life changing moment, we lived in a small two-bedroom apartment in Philadelphia. Though crime was not a major issue, there were many other factors that made our living environment less than ideal. For one, my brothers and I shared a small bedroom where we slept on twin size bunk beds. While this arrangement was not so bad when we were little, it really took its toll as we grew older. Being the only girl, I always longed for the space to claim my individuality. Likewise, having no real space where my brothers could play created the perfect condition for trouble. Together with concerns that my parents had about our schooling and the growing costs of rent, these issues really fueled their determination to purchase a larger space that they could finally call home.

As Liberian immigrants who migrated to the United States at the height of a civil war in their home country, my parents were serious about providing my siblings and I with the opportunities we would need to be successful.  When it came time to find the right community, my mom was painstakingly deliberate in how she made her decision. She took into account the school districts, the locations of nearest grocery stores, local libraries, and a multitude of other community resources that she believed would allow us to live the best lives we could. After several months of intense searching, she finally decided on a home in Bensalem. I was eight years old when we made the big move.

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Almost Home Graduates Keep Rising.

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Almost Home Graduates Keep Rising.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

-Maya Angelou, And Still I Rise

Our Spring 2017 Almost Home cohort has finally graduated! As excited as I am for their accomplishments, I will miss our class. This cohort included nine individuals who committed to spending two hours in class twice a week. Each of these individuals led very busy lives and faced many challenges that made it difficult to attend the class. Still, they persisted and kept rising to the final moments of graduation.

During the graduation celebration, we had a restorative circle with the participants of Almost Home and the people in their support systems who attended. These circles are based on principles of restorative justice and community building. Community building was very palpable as class members spoke about what the class meant to them, and they highlighted the strengths and accomplishments of other people in the class. Many of the graduates said the class made them feel more confident. One graduate saved $500 since the beginning of the class 8 weeks ago. Additionally, many of the people in the graduates’ support systems spoke about the growth they’ve seen in their loved ones since the beginning of the class. Many support members in attendance also mentioned that the class members are sharing what they’ve learned in the class to financially empower others. This means that the Almost Home class is not only having an impact on those who attend, but creates a ripple effect, influencing all other members of their support system as well! The graduation celebration was both emotional and inspiring. We could not be more proud of the individuals who successfully completed the course!

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8 Things to Donate to the ReStore When Renovating

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By Elizabeth Hefner, Director of Development and Communications

8 Things to Donate to the ReStore When Renovating

With the weather getting warmer and spring now in full swing, I recently started putting together a list of different projects I can do this month to spruce up my home. Home improvement projects are fun, but they always produce so much trash! Still, even when it feels impossible to get rid of everything I don’t need without adding to my renovation expenses, I know I can always turn to ReStore Montco — they make it a breeze to complete my home improvement projects on a budget and get rid of the old items that I no longer want to keep.

Donating leftover project materials to the ReStore keeps functional — and often times, desirable — home renovation items out of landfills. ReStore Montco resells your donated home improvement goods and uses this money to help build homes hardworking families in Montgomery County can purchase for an affordable cost.

By donating your used or new home improvement goods, you contribute to your community in many ways. You allow other home renovators to get the materials they need for their projects at an affordable cost, and you help others achieve their dream of stable housing.

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Habitat Montco Welcomes A New Family Services Coordinator

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By Caitlyn Farrell, Family Services Coordinator

I am so excited to have recently joined Habitat for Humanity of Montgomery County as the Family Services Coordinator. I recently graduated from college. During my time in college, I worked with families at a crisis nursery and survivors of intimate partner violence. The families and survivors showed me that it is possible to have great strength and resiliency, while undergoing tremendous struggles. Working with them also helped me to identify the need for and lack of stable housing.

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4.3 "The Skinny Budget"

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 4.3 "The Skinny Budget"

By Marianne Lynch, Executive Director 

The current proposed U.S. budget includes a 7 billion dollar cut to Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For those of you who are unfamiliar with this department, it oversees the housing voucher system (formerly known as section 8), provides support for the HOME grant, the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), provides loans through programs like SHOP and FHA, oversees fair housing laws, and much more. HUD touches many areas of American life, particularly for those who are low to moderate income.

The proposed federal budget would completely cut the HOME program, CDBG, SHOP and significantly impact the voucher program. For Habitat, the loss of HOME, CDBG and SHOP would be devastating to our ability to provide homeownership opportunities to families we serve and the absence of vouchers will put an undue burden on our many partners, as well as the communities themselves. Each of these programs provides positive economic investment to the communities they impact, creating significant concerns about how the cuts will affect an already stressed affordable housing market.

That being said, I would like to share with you, our stakeholders, how these programs positively impact our local economy. Right now, Habitat Montco is building four new townhomes in Bridgeport, due in part to funding from the HOME program, through Montgomery County. These funds are by no means the only source of investment in this project, but they have provided the key resources to encourage buy-in from our major project sponsors. When complete, the Bridgeport homes will appraise for market value and the families that live there will pay a mortgage that will help Habitat Montco to continue to build homes in more communities around the county. They will also pay taxes back to the community, providing much needed income to keep up essential services and maintain a vibrant, strong school system. In addition to taxes paid, these families will use their purchasing power in Bridgeport, patronizing local shops and restaurants, and also buying items needed when moving into a new home. Overall, the economic impact of building new homes in Bridgeport is well in advance of 1 million dollars…This return on $400,000 provided by HUD through the HOME grant, seems like a good investment at a 60% return. This is just one way HUD investments create stronger communities.

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