Last week I was asked if I wanted to be interviewed by a television reporter about an upsurge in shootings in a local neighborhood. I am on the Board of Directors for the Habitat for Humanity affiliate that builds in this neighborhood. Half of all of the homes we have built over the last seventeen years have been in this neighborhood. This neighborhood is a major part of our mission. We have a housing lot near this shooting and the Board recently decided to not build on this lot for at least a year due to increased crime. The news story was going to be about how the upsurge in crime has caused our Habitat affiliate to postpone building.
I declined the interview. I knew some of the facts about the neighborhood but I was woefully short on wisdom on crime and our growing involvement in community activism. I voted to postpone building but I was uncomfortable with the decision. I was afraid that my discomfort with the decision might do more harm to the neighborhood than good. I felt guilty about my decision to forgo the interview but it was the right decision for the board. Our Development Director was available. He was reasonably informed on the facts and willing, so he did the interview. He did a nice job. Here is the link to the newscast.
Over the next couple of days I thought about my actions several times. The board’s decision to postpone building was a direct result of existing Habitat partner families questioning our wisdom of putting additional families on that street. On one hand I believe that adding families to the presently empty lots changes the neighborhood for the better. Our mission is to use decent, affordable houses to transform families and neighborhoods. The grace exhibited by the donors and volunteers can transform the character of the partner families in many positive ways. It also affects the neighbors who carefully watch the construction progress but it doesn’t stop there. Something magical occurs to families as they are transformed by the responsibility of home ownership. Financial discipline and responsibility become paramount family issues. Before they know it these families have climbed up the rungs of prosperity and new doors are opened for them. We have two families whose finances have improved enough that they traded up to a larger, conventionally financed house. Many others have acquired significant home equity. For families who cannot afford to save, their home is their nest egg.
On the other hand I do not want to see a partner family or volunteer shot. The upsurge in shootings makes the property unattractive to both the potential home owners and the volunteers. Something bad is going on in the neighborhood. Ignoring the problem will probably get someone we know shot. Postponing building and increasing our community activism on reducing crime is our Plan B. It is uncharted territory for us. Our communications with the city leaders have always been good but they will increase as we search for ways to reduce crime. We are both striving for the same goals though I doubt we will bring any additional wisdom to the table. It is hard to be truly helpful when you are an outsider. The city leaders have some big problems to deal with. Maybe the increased public awareness will attract some outside help that will be helpful.