Philly's poverty problem is also a housing security problem - Generocity Philly

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Dec. 21, 2017 7:21 am

Philly’s poverty problem is also a housing security problem

Columnist Akeem Dixon talks with Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia's Kathryn Fernandez about holiday giving and housing in the nation's poorest big city.

A new home.

(Photo via facebook.com/habitatphiladelphia)

Cool Things Wit Cool People is a monthly column by Akeem Dixon focusing on community development. To ask a question, email coolthingswitcoolpeople@gmail.com, or reach out @akeemdixon.


Baby, it’s cold outside — especially for those without a stable place to live during the wintertime.

Real estate is one asset that can be passed between family members to create generational wealth. It is also the asset many of this country’s most wealthy invest in. This is probably not a coincidence.

In Philadelphia, the abundance of cranes, construction workers in hard hats and yellow permits taped to buildings hide to many the fact that nearly 400,000 residents live in poverty. Housing provides a stable environment for young people to grow and elders to plan their next life steps.

Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia is the local branch of a national nonprofit that assists with the building and renovation of properties that typically would not draw the interest of traditional lending institutions for the benefit of low-income, housing-insecure Philadelphians.

In this holiday season edition of Dear Akeem, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia’s director of institutional advancement, Kathryn Fernandez, explains the state of housing insecurity in Philadelphia, what Habitat is doing about it and why donations matter to nonprofits.

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Akeem Dixon: What does housing insecurity look like in Philadelphia? Why is Habitat’s work needed? 

Kathryn Fernandez: When it comes to the numbers, supporting affordable housing should be at the forefront of all Philadelphian’s minds. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of the 10 largest cities in the US (currently at 25.8 percent). More than half of Philadelphia renters are cost-burdened and pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Habitat’s work helps ensure that more Philadelphians can afford a decent place to live. Many of our homeowners would not qualify for traditional mortgages.

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In addition to having a high poverty rate, Philadelphia also has a relatively high rate of homeownership (about 52 percent), which is why the work of our Home Repair Program is so important. It’s cost-effective to keep a family in their home, which is often a family’s only major asset, with the home passed down through generations. Repairs significantly improve a homeowner’s quality of life and health (think: asbestos, lead, ventilation) and help avoid home abandonment and/or homeowner displacement.

Habitat’s work has a direct, long-term impact our work has on families and their futures. Our homeowners want to build better lives for themselves and their children, and giving to Habitat provides a hand up for these families to achieve their fullest potential. At our core, we believe that everyone deserves a decent place to live. Our homeowners are nurses, teachers, social workers, business professionals, parents — all working to achieve stability.

AD: What types of housing services or programs will donations to your organization be supporting?

KF: Donations to Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia support our work in affordable housing. Our Homeownership Program partners with families who make between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income, demonstrate a need for housing, and are willing to partner with Habitat through 350 hours of “sweat equity” in lieu of a down payment on homes. New homeowners purchase their homes with a 30-year, zero-interest mortgage.

Our aforementioned Home Repair Program works with existing homeowners in Belmont, Mantua and Sharswood as well as veterans all over the city to make critical improvements to keep homes warm, safe, dry and energy-efficient.

AD: Why is giving such an essential part of any nonprofit organization?

KF: A diversified funding model is the most sustainable way to operate a nonprofit — or any business. At Habitat in particular, we are big on “building community,” and one of the ways we do that is through engaging people philanthropically. People who want to give and support our programs find community in the culture of giving, and feel good knowing that their dollars allow our programs to continue to impact families in need.

AD: What does it mean for donations to be tax-deductible and why is this so important to the giver?

KF: It means that for every dollar you donate to a 501(c)3 charitable organization, you can claim a tax deduction. It is an incentive for the giver. Tax deductions also apply to the donation of gifts and services in-kind. Contracting companies might lend their time and expertise to expedite Habitat’s building process, for instance, or individuals might donate their furniture to be sold at our social enterprise ReStore.

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This season of giving is best known for the purchase of items such as video games, jewelry, ugly sweaters and luxury cars with human-sized ribbons draped around them (if you believe the dealership commercials).

But let’s not forget the ultimate gift to those who are less fortunate: charitable donations. For so many nonprofits, holiday donations provide them with the capital to continue their mission. Are you a great gift giver?

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