Earlier this summer, seven house frames were constructed on the National Mall over a four day period. The Habitat for Humanity event, Veterans Build on the Mall, was a part of the organization’s annual AmeriCorps Build-a-thon that draws attention to the volunteer service program as well as the need for affordable housing in local communities. This year’s Veterans Build on the Mall, sponsored by The Home Depot Foundation, was specifically designed to raise awareness of important opportunities offered through Habitat’s new Veterans Build initiative and Repair Corps program.
Habitat for Humanity International has established a formal Veterans Build Initiative with the specific mission to provide housing solutions and volunteer and employment opportunities to U.S. veterans, military service members, and their families. In addition, hundreds of the over 1,500 local Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the United States also serve veterans, and they accomplish their mission with a five-pronged approach that includes:
- Building simple, decent and affordable housing for military, veterans, and their families.
- Engaging military members, veterans, families, veterans’ groups and all military supporters in volunteer programs and veteran-related advocacy.
- Capitalizing on skill sets gained from military service with recruitment targeting veterans as Habitat for Humanity International/local affiliate employees, board members and extended volunteers, national service members, interns and fellows.
- Promoting cultural competency for Habitat affiliates engaging military and veterans and providing access to financial literacy and homeownership education programs to veterans.
- Hosting events that highlight veteran housing needs and honor their service, including the 9/11 Day of Service, MLK Day and Veterans Day.
Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County
Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County (Habitat CFC) in Connecticut is one of the local affiliates that have joined the Veterans Build Initiative with their Habitat for Heroes program. The initiative launched in July 2012, when staff worked to identify the first build site. Habitat CFC teamed up with the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center to select their first Habitat for Heroes veteran homeowner, Staff Sergeant Juliet Taylor. On Veterans Day 2012, Habitat CFC staff, volunteers, AmeriCorps members, local veteran organizations, corporate sponsors, and city officials came together to break ground on the future home site. The house is scheduled for completion on Veterans Day 2013, when the next Habitat for Heroes homeowner is expected to be announced.
The City of Bridgeport, CT, an NLC member, has been a long-time partner of Habitat CFC’s work. The city plays an instrumental role in Habitat CFC’s land acquisition process, identifying blighted and abandoned land and transferring the deed over to Habitat CFC for little or no charge knowing the future tax-paying homeowner will be rooted in the neighborhood. “The municipalities in which Habitat has built homes have contributed enormously to its success,” said Bruce Berzin, Habitat CFC’s Co-President and Chief Operating Officer. “Habitat homeowners pay more than $500,000 per year in property taxes to these cities – and moreover, are active, engaged, hard-working citizens.” Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch supports Habitat’s affordable homeownership model by attending Habitat CFC home dedications and other special events. In addition, the city’s Veteran’s Affairs Office has also provided resources to Habitat CFC staff as they began the Habitat for Heroes program.
Habitat CFC depends on community support and collaboration to succeed in its mission to provide affordable homeownership opportunities. When choosing a location for a Habitat for Heroes build site, the site’s proximity to veteran supportive services is an essential element. Habitat CFC staff were able to identify a neighborhood for the first build that is within walking distance to Homes for the Brave, a local veteran service provider, and plans to place future Habitat for Heroes homes in the same neighborhood to help foster a supportive veteran community.
The habitat model heavily relies on volunteers to complete the building process. With the undertaking of the Veterans Build Initiative, it was revealed that many Habitat CFC volunteers were also veterans, eager to support fellow veterans through the program. Veterans can volunteer in the Habitat ReStore, where each day of volunteering is equivalent to contributing $200 towards the Habitat for Heroes build. Beyond veterans and their families, the wider community has also shown support for the Veterans Build initiative, recognizing the critical need for affordable housing for those who have served our country.
As communities nationwide strive to provide affordable housing for their veterans, Habitat for Humanity has proven to be a valuable asset. Since 2011, Habitat affiliates across the country have helped meet the housing needs of over 450 veterans and their families, while expanding their capacity to involve veterans as volunteers in their overall affordable homebuilding process. As Habitat CFC demonstrates, collaboration with local government ensures the work to support accessible, affordable housing for veterans is as effective and far reaching as possible.