The Other American Housing Crisis

Is the housing crisis over?  What exactly is a “housing crisis?”  I have been following the real estate and mortgage markets closely since 2005.  I analyzed the collapse of Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers and have seen the effects on the world’s credit system.  I saw the foreclosure rates skyrocket and the average time that houses were on the market jump to 14 months. That’s a housing crisis. However, rather than reprint my analysis on Bear Stearns, I have a more pressing issue to discuss because we have another housing crisis in America, and it has nothing to do with foreclosures.  Elderly and disabled taxpaying American citizens, who have paid off their mortgages, are in jeopardy of losing their homes to condemnation because they do not have the physical ability or resources to fix them.

I first began tracking the housing situation after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita swept through Louisiana and the checkbooks of people all over the country were coming out.  In total, according to a study completed by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, over $3.5 Billion was donated for those affected by Katrina and Rita.  It was wonderful to see the generosity of Americans come to the aid of other citizens. Unfortunately, checks made out to the “Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund” were whisking across the country, passing over houses of people in their own communities that have been in need of similar assistance for years.  Obviously, the Hurricane was the triggering event that brought out generosity and relief.  So, what was going to bring attention to the millions of homes (above) in similar situations that didn’t have such publicity? 

That is when the concept for a nationwide home repair network first started making sense.  If the United States can come up with $3.5 billion in six months, we certainly can focus our financial resources over 20 years on helping homeowners with homes that fall into situations like the one pictured in this article.  So, I collaborated with a good friend, Greg Take, who was the executive director of HopeBUILDERS Home Repair.  HopeBUILDERS has a mission statement that identifies the goal of helping others live in Safety, Comfort, and Dignity.  If you have ever been without one of these three things, you can relate.  If you own a home, and are living without all three, your community should be there for you.  So, we began circulating pictures of houses right in our neighborhood, and asked people where they thought the house was located - their response was predominantly, “New Orleans.”

In Kansas City, Missouri, on February 24, 2011, the first Home Repair Summit meeting is taking place sponsored by the Giving Legacy organization.  We are bringing together the good men and women of the Kansas City metro region that have been working on the housing crisis (our version) for decades.  Government agencies, charitable and non-profit organizations, social service workers, and other key individuals will converge to prepare a pilot program that will begin giving hope to those elderly and disabled citizens that are neither living in comfort, safety, nor dignity.  Greg Wayne, one of the founders of HopeBUILDERS Home Repair, is helping to organize the summit meeting.  He stated, “After 10 years of working to try and keep up with the demand of homeowners in need of critical home repairs, it is time to focus on a private, nationwide system that can properly address this rising demand.”

This is a prime example of the situation our country will be facing in the coming years when budget cuts and further economic turbulence ensues:  good citizens that have nowhere to turn deserve relief.  Taking care of our citizens who can’t take care of their own homes most certainly falls in the category of what I call Sustainable Philanthropy.  [To read more on Sustainable Philanthropy and Discretionary Philanthropy click here.] 

Our goal is to launch programs in five cities across the country where there is a centralized intake program for those seeking critical home repairs.  You may ask why the government isn’t going to fund this program.  Good question.  You might want to read my blog on the federal budget and the articles on the federal and state debt crises, including the bankruptcy dilemma for the states.  Then, return to this article so we can discuss how “We the People” are going to work together to fill the unmet needs of the community while the government works diligently to balance their budget.

Other questions that may be of interest that we intend to further answer in the summit meeting:

Q.            Who is going to fund this program? 

A.            The Giving Legacy Fund will coordinate funding in conjunction with existing funding sources, including grants, corporate philanthropy, individual philanthropy, and community and church funding.

Q.            Who is going to implement the repairs? 

A.            All of the organizations that are currently working to keep up with the demand will work together through the Giving Legacy organization to prepare a pilot program.  From that pilot program, we will create an expansion and training module that will allow additional organizations across the country to join our efforts. 

Q.            Who are the volunteers going to be? 

A.            Individuals and corporate groups.  The corporate groups are company employees binding together to show up on Saturday mornings to help build a house through the Habitat for Humanity organization.  Or, in the case of HopeBUILDERS, individuals from across the community coming together on a Saturday to build wheelchair ramps, fix plumbing, repair walls, and bring houses back to code.  This is where the organizations can help further the philanthropy needs in our communities by supporting such programs as the Paid-Release Time program as outlined in the 2010 Giving in Numbers Employee and Stakeholder Engagement report generated by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.  Individuals frequently ask what they can do to help in this fiscal crisis if they don’t have much money to give -  this is one of those ways where they can make a difference.

Everyone has a role in rebuilding America.  What is yours?  When are you going to act on it?  Stay tuned to this blog if helping this housing crisis is where you want to make a difference.  There will be many more ways that you can be a part of rebuilding America to give the children of tomorrow the gift of sustainable communities in the land of opportunity.

{The answer to the question at the beginning of this article, “Is the housing crisis over?” is no.  ”The Wall Street Journal’s latest quarterly survey of housing-market conditions found that prices declined in all of the 28 major metropolitan areas tracked during the fourth quarter when compared to a year earlier.”}

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