Habit for Humanity Chicago
Formerly "Windy City Habitat for Humanity"

Habitat Chicago Today

News. Stories. Updates.

3.15.16 Home Matters.

Home. It's a big word with complex meanings, all unique to different people. Why is it complex? Here at Habitat Chicago we recognize that home is more than just a structure; home is the place where life begins, the hub for where we grow. Unfortunately for many, home is not a comfort, but an obstacle that can hinder their success and their children's success. Recently the Heartland Alliance Social IMPACT Research Center released the 2015 Report on Illinois Poverty - their findings are shocking and show one recurring theme: poverty and its effects are very much alive in our city.

Most of us don't think twice about home. It's where we begin and end our days, it's where we eat dinner with our families and laugh with friends, it's where your brother hit you square in the face with a baseball in your backyard. It's easy to take for granted. But this is not the case of Habitat Chicago families. For Habitat Chicago families, they don't think about home as a given - they recognize the value in space, a yard, a kitchen fit for many. When we ask our families, "What are you most looking forward to when you move into your new home", the answer is nearly always along the lines of having friends and family over - having the space to have the people they love in their home.

Most Chicagoans don't realize that overcrowded and dilapidated living conditions exist right next door. Most Chicagoans don't realize that there are families housing 10 people in a two-bedroom apartment- that's no exaggeration. Most Chicagoans don't realize that:

There are 975,488 people low-income families in Cook County, 568,241 of which live in the city of Chicago

To afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Cook County at minimum wage, you would have to work 102 hours a week

27% of households in Cook County are severely rent-burdened

Terpstra, A., & Rynell, A. (2016, February). Racism's Toll: Report on Illinois Poverty. Social IMPACT Research Center. Available at www.ILPovertyReport.org.

These numbers can be shocking. It's unfathomable that there over half a million low-income families in the city of Chicago struggling to afford a two-bedroom apartment. 568,241 - that's comparable to the number of families affected by natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. What's even more shocking is the effect that affordable housing has on children and families. Inadequate housing jeopardizes a family's health outcomes, economic potential, and educational attainment - and the threats spread beyond one single family. Substandard housing threatens an entire community's ability to invest in education, their appeal to new investors and residents, and their overall safety and health.

Affordable housing makes a difference - access to affordable housing literally changes lives. Compared to children of renters (of the same age, income, race, etc.), children of homeowners:

Are 116% more likely to graduate from college

Are 59% more likely to own a home within 10 years of moving from their parent's household

Save taxpayers an estimated $34,000 in public expenditures that would have been spent had they remained in rented housing

From the Cincinnati office of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, April 2003.

You see, home matters. It's not just a place to rest your head or share a meal - it's a place for children to grow, for families to learn, and for life to flourish. A safe and decent home changes lives - not just within a single family, but within entire communities.

3.11.16 Women Build Strength

March is Women's History Month, which means there's no better time to honor the many achievements of those women who have made tremendous strides in making affordable housing accessible to Chicago women. Take Women Build, for example: this annual build event brings together a community of Chicago women to fund and build the home of a Habitat Chicago woman-led family. Why? Women are particularly vulnerable to poverty throughout their lifespan - unequal wages, time-consuming care giving, and small retirement cushions all make maintaining decent housing a huge challenge. So let's take a look at notable Women Build Team Leaders and how they've shaped this event as we approach its fourth year.

Team leaders are the backbone of Women Build - they are the reason it works! They have the ever-important role of filling teams and then serving as their team's coach and cheerleader as they work towards crushing their fundraising goals. As a result of these indispensable women introducing new faces and can-do spirits to Habitat, Women Build grew by 150% over the past year.

It's no surprise that around here, there is no lack of love for our Women Builders - they are a dynamic group of women who put passion and energy into every second of the week-long event. Each Team Leader continually works to empower their teammates calling on their own strengths to bring other women closer to the Habitat Chicago mission. Let's take a look at three Team Leaders and what they bring to Women Build:

Kristy Fercho builds hope. Kristy is not only a long-time Women Builder, but a strong voice for Habitat's mission as the Habitat Chicago Board President. Kristy has participated in Women Build the past two years and shows endless excitement for the work Habitat Chicago families are doing to own their own homes. Kristy inspires others to see how special the energy and commitment families put towards home really is.

What does Kristy have to say?

"There is nothing more important to me or to the organization obviously, than having a family contribute to what is ultimately going to be there home; they'll care for it in a different way, they'll have a sense of pride... You have these volunteers coming together on a build site to really build someone's home in the ultimate mission of ensuring that everyone has a decent and safe place to live... and it really inspires hope."

Tammy Bauer builds energy. Last year Tammy blew Women Build 2015 out of the water as the top fundraiser, raising an incredible $2,650 for the Spencer family's home. But Tammy's passion didn't stop with her alone - her team, Team CREW, came out on the hottest day of Women Build and absolutely rocked it, spreading their enthusiasm to each and every builder out on site. Even as they sweat it out building garage walls, they still found time to strike a power pose and share smiles with their fellow builders. You thought they couldn't do more? Well they did - Team CREW joined Tammy in the top ranks, raising the most to see that construction of the Women Build home was possible.

What does Tammy have to say?

"I believe in Habitat for Humanity Chicago's mission and vision... [E]veryone on site kept motivated and worked throughout the entire day. It was an incredible and rewarding experience and I am excited to be a part of the 2016 process and looking forward to our 2016 build day!"

Suzanne Spagnola builds empowerment. Where do we even begin with Suzanne? This power-house came to not 1, not 2, but all 5 days of Women Build 2015 as a skilled crew leader, guiding teams through tasks and home construction each brutally hot day. Suzanne encouraged each builder she worked with, walking them through each step of their task until they felt confident accomplishing it on their own. Bummed you missed out on working with her? Don't fret - Suzanne has already signed on to come out to all five days of Women Build 2016 and we can't wait to see her gusto spread to even more builders this year.

What does Suzanne have to say?

"Every day we [were] surrounded by women with great attitudes and can-do spirits... I was so impressed by that."

So what will you build into Women Build 2016? Now is your chance to find out: sign upto be a Women Build Team Leader by April 7th. Build a team. Build a home. Build together.

3.09.16 Overcoming Heartbreak. Building Hope.

Over the past year, Habitat Chicago has had thousands of volunteers work determinedly to see our mission succeed, each coming to us from all walks of life and for an infinite number of reasons. This January, a remarkable group got out on the build site for a very special reason - to celebrate the memory of a friend whose life was rooted in optimism, brought joy to all those he encountered, and was taken far too soon. We asked team leader Sanskruti Patel to tell their story and this is it, in her own words.

"We all knew Vihang in our own unique ways, most of us first meeting him in high school or on campus at the University of Illinois. Regardless of how you knew him, Vihang Patel was the type of person that left an impression on you after the first encounter. Although his wide eyes and contagious smile were both captivating, what people took away from their interactions with Vihang was just how much of a giver he was. Whether it was the first time you had class with him or the fiftieth time you went over to his apartment for dinner, Vihang would bend over backwards for you. You could always go to Vihang for help on anything. Sometimes you just needed advice on a personal matter and you knew Vihang would drop anything he was doing to patiently listen to you. Sometimes, especially after a long day of class, all you wanted to do was to unwind or just find someone to laugh with, the first person to come to mind was always Vihang. You also knew that if you went over to Vihang's place hungry he would feed you until you were stuffed, just as if he was an 80-year-old Indian grandmother. His heart was bigger than his smile (and his perception of our appetites) and we were all lucky to have had him in our lives.

We all knew Vihang was going to do amazing thing with his life. He was brilliant and hardworking. He was also incredibly dedicated to his family, friends and his faith. He was the type of person that was making his corner of the world a better place, and we knew he would continue to do so even after our time together at U of I. As idealistic young college students we never imagined that we would lose such a dear friend as such a young age. We never imagined that Vihang's life would be cut short, but it was, and we all dealt with the grief in different ways. What began as intense mourning slowly turned into acceptance and ultimately a desire to do something to remember him, to commemorate his legacy. A few of us came up with the idea that we would try to annually meet up to do a service project, what we ended up calling 'Volunteering for Vihang - V4V'. Every year, around Vihang's birthday, we try to find a service project that would allow us to unconditionally give to others, the way that Vihang lived his life.

We all still feel his loss but helping build someone's home was the perfect way for us to remember Vihang and his legacy. We are so thankful that Habitat gave us this opportunity and look forward to partnering again with this great organization. We had signed up to volunteer around Vihang's birthday, knowing that it would be cold and much easier to do this type of volunteer project in the spring or summer. Although we had readied ourselves to become 'Winter Warriors', it turned out that we got lucky. It was 45 degrees and sunny on the Saturday we volunteered in West Pullman, and considering it was January in Chicago, it seemed like a little more than just pure luck. We couldn't help but think this was Vihang's way of looking down on us and continuing to take care of us."

The Habitat Chicago family is truly humbled and proud to have been included in such a beautiful tradition. We did not know Vihang, but we are thankful for the extraordinary life he led and the legacy of hope and friendship he has left behind.

3.07.16 Around the World with Habitat for Humanity

Curious about the work Habitat does beyond Chicago? Travel with us through this photo series to see what the fight for affordable housing looks like worldwide and how Habitat's Global Village is working to realize a world where everyone has a decent place to live.

In our own city, 259,000 people currently live in substandard housing conditions. In Chicago, this means a family's current home is unsafe, overcrowded, or at least 30% of their income goes towards rent. Our organization is fighting this unacceptable standard through partnerships with families, communities, volunteers, and other organizations.

Affordable housing is one of the biggest issues currently facing Ireland and has only become worse since the country's 2008 economic crisis. Habitat Ireland focuses its work on renovating the thousands of dilapidated and abandoned properties around city centers to then sells to families in need.

In Egypt, more than 20 million people live in substandard housing conditions. In rural areas, many families live in old mud brick houses with dirt floors, no windows or doors, and thatch roofs. Since it's founding in 1989, Habitat Egypt has constructed and renovated nearly 28,000 homes to protect families from snakes, insects, intruders, and more.

Growing population, high poverty levels, and the prevalence of natural disasters (averaging 20 typhoons a year) all drive the need for decent housing in the Philippines. Habitat works to address the need by partnering with government and non-government agencies, as well as faith-based groups, with the goal of reducing the total housing deficit in the country by 20% in 2020.

Haitiis the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of the population living on less than $2 per day. Access to decent housing is especially inadequate and was worsened by the 2010 earthquake, which damaged nearly 190,000 homes. Habitat has since installed the Earthquake Recovery Program, constructing over 500 permanent houses and 1,500 shelters.

A percentage of Habitat Chicago's yearly earnings support our sister affiliate in Malawi, where 4 out of 5 families live in substandard homes with dirt floors and glass thatched roofs. These conditions contribute to the alarming number of orphans: 1.4 million out of a population of 17.3 million. Habitat Malawi has installed many programs, including the Orphans and Vulnerable Groups program, which has constructed over 300 houses and seeks to significantly reduce the vulnerability rate by December 2017.

Through Global Village, Habitat for Humanity does more together, working to ensure that each hour volunteered and every dollar donated makes a difference not only for the people in one particular city, but for our brothers and sisters across the world. Learn more about Habitat Chicago's role here.

3.04.16 Wait... What's AmeriCorps?

Have you ever heard us talk about AmeriCorps or our "year-long volunteers"? Are you sick of not really knowing what that means? Fear not, read on (and maybe you'll end up becoming one yourself).

If you're reading this, you're probably pretty familiar with Habitat Chicago team member Mike Granzow. No? Well then surely you're familiar with a little thing called Neighborhood Engagement. That "little thing is Mike's thing. Over his past three years working with Habitat Chicago staff and volunteers, he's helped take community engagement to a new level - spearheading our Neighborhood Engagement Initiative; facilitating the creation of the Community Action Group, which has hosted over 130 members in the past year; providing support in the implementation of Block Build, a now biannual exterior home repairs event; and so much more, we can't even cover it here.

The really cool part about all of this? Mike started as a volunteer with AmeriCorps, a network of local, state, and national programs that puts members through a full year of service with organizations across the country. Why does this matter? 30% of Habitat Chicago's full-time team is made up of these year-long volunteers. And if Mike's story has taught us anything, it's that these amazing people are simply getting things done for this organization. So you don't know Mike and you still don't care? Well if you've been on site, you know Joe, Dominiece, and Kelly - all year-long volunteers fully dedicated to moving Habitat's work forward in Chicago.

This fall, the Habitat Chicago team will welcome 11 new faces as year-long volunteers - that's an impressive number. Want to get in on the action? Good - we want you to, too! Take a look at what you could do:

*Please note this statistic has been completely fabricated for the success of this article

Our favorite part? As an AmeriCorps member, you don't just help this mission; you gain so much along the way - including (but not limited to) professional development and personal satisfaction. So whether you're just graduating and looking for something meaningful to do, you're between jobs and not sure where to go next, or you just really want to share this with your niece/nephew/grandkid/other family member so they'll finally do something that makes them happy - apply today!

2.23.16 Education - The Foundation of our Mission

Without a good and sturdy foundation, a home simply cannot stand. It is what everything else rests on and depends upon. This is a truth that Habitat Chicago carries beyond just our new home construction program. This truth guides and drives the entirety of our work. This is why we have made education, the most historically proven tool for effecting serious change, central to every aspect of our mission. Take a look at some of the ways we have utilized the power of education this winter alone.

Our Homebuyer Program. By now, most people know that our partner families work hard to own their homes, completing a minimum of 250 volunteer hours with Habitat Chicago and saving for a downpayment on their homes. But did you know they also enroll in Homeowner University? Homeowner University is a series of 12 courses designed to empower our families to be successful homeowners, attentive neighbors, and engaged community members. Courses range from house maintenance, to conflict resolution, to estate planning so that our families can be in the driver's seat in all aspects of their lives. These courses bring in experts from all over the Chicago area who share their time, knowledge, and expertise to give our families a hand-up in the fight for affordable housing. In the last month, we've held courses on the importance of savings and estate planning and the power of attorney. Next up - the fourth class of our Financial Fitness Series: Loan to Own - Know What You are Borrowing before You Buy, facilitated by Pullman Bank & Trust and hosted at the Kroc Center on Saturday, February 27th.

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention - our Homeowner University courses are open to the public, because the more we know and the more we do together, the better we can make our Chicago community. Interested in joining us for a class? Contact Michelle Newell (spots are limited).

The West Pullman Community Action Group. The West Pullman Community Action Group (CAG), comprised of no less than 130 West Pullman community members and facilitated by Habitat Chicago staff, holds monthly meetings focused on various social concerns that currently face the community. Any guesses on the theme of February's meeting? That's right - education! Folks were directed to several resources related to education to enact the change they so passionately want to see in their community. Check out two of our favorites:

Local School Councils: All Chicago Public Schools have Local School Councils responsible for approving how school resources are allocated and for developing an annual School Improvement Plan. Who's invited to run? All people who want to strengthen their local schools and have a positive impact on student achievement - no experience or formal education required.

The Red Cross: The Red Cross offers classes to help residents prepare for emergencies by offering a variety of health and safety classes. These classes include First Aid, CPR, Babysitting, and more, keeping people knowledgeable, confident, and ready to respond in times of need. CAG attendees were connected with Sara Echols, Red Cross Community Mobilization and Partnerships Manager, to bring these to their community!

Our Very Own Office
. We think it's vital not only for our partner families and community members to be connected to educational resources, but our staff as well. As the saying goes, "You can't pour from an empty cup." One way we fill our metaphorical cups is through monthly seminars for our year-long volunteers that offer information on a myriad of issues related to the Habitat line of work. January's meeting featured a mental health workshop to provide our service members with an overview of the most common mental illnesses and to equip them with ways to effectively recognize these and respond. February's meeting took a walk through the history of affordable housing in Chicago, featuring a photo essay from NPR and a Socialand Politica lHistory of Chicago's Public Housing from Roosevelt University. What's next in March? A visit to the National Public Housing Museum.

As you can see, Habitat Chicago is an organization both grounded and catalyzed by the power of education. We do not ever want to be an organization that simply builds houses - our goal is to connect people with the resources they need to bring about the change they want to see so that together we can do more to make our Chicago community a safer and stronger place to call home.

2.23.16 Open House, Open Hearts, Open Applications - Deadline March 5th

"Good morning, welcome to my home!" Very soon-to-be Habitat Chicago Homeowner and current Partner Family Crysteal Marshbanks repeated these words brightly as many familiar and unfamiliar faces entered her future home on Saturday, February 6th at Habitat Chicago's Open House for prospective partner family applicants. Habitat Chicago is accepting applicants to join our homebuyer program now through March 5th. See what Crysteal had to say about the program, and what words of advice she gives to future families.

The sun was shining brightly as Crysteal stood with other current Habitat Chicago partner families in her newly completed kitchen. The families talked about their future homes, their block, and bonded as future neighbors. Dreams of colorful walls and beautiful wood flooring floated through the air as potential families drifted through the home, stopping to ask questions and share their concerns. "I was worried about that too, but don't worry about it," Crysteal encouraged sincerely, as she walked with them through the home, eager to share each piece of her experience, "Have you seen the basement?"

Crysteal knows better than anyone - Habitat Chicago partner families aren't just buying a home; they are beginning a journey. It isn't as simple as handing over a check in exchange for a set of keys - our families invest in themselves, putting in a minimum of 250 hours of sweat equity as they work on their homes and their neighbors' homes. And it doesn't stop there - families invest hours in Homeowner University classes, learning skills from financial responsibility to home maintenance and upkeep. It's only after they put in all of this work that they pay for their home at a 30-year, 0% interest mortgage. These families are not getting a hand out; they are receiving a hand-up as they work toward a more stable future.

Crysteal did not have to show prospective families her home; she agreed to open the doors to her home to strangers because she believes in Habitat and believes that it will work for other families, "At first, I was like - they won't accept me; I don't have the best credit, I don't make a whole lot of money at work, and I was so wrong... I would just tell anybody to give it a try".

If you or someone you know is ready to make the first step toward homeownership - don't hesitate. If you have a need for safe, affordable housing; if you show a willingness to partner with Habitat Chicago and put in your sweat equity hours; and if you show you have an ability to pay - you can apply for this program. Simply visit our website to begin the application process.

2.21.16 TrueQuest Champions the Pope Francis Home Challenge

Do you know about TrueQuest Communications? This award-winning, Chicago-based company is turning 15 this year, and they are celebrating the best way they know how - by giving back to Chicago.

This December, TrueQuest bundled up, grabbed their hammers, and headed to the Habitat Chicago build site. Publisher/CEO Patrice Tuohy said, "I can't think of a better way to celebrate TrueQuest's upcoming 15th anniversary than by giving back to our community". Patrice has been a true champion of TrueQuest's effort and involvement with Habitat Chicago, introducing the company to the Pope Francis Home Challenge and encouraging them to not only build for a Chicago family, but to raise the funds that make their home possible.

Patrice had a little inspiration herself - construction of the Pope Francis house was started by an anonymous donor so inspired by the works and social justice convictions of Pope Francis that they wanted to do more. This anonymous donor granted Habitat Chicago $60,000 to start a home - but there was a challenge: bring Chicagoans together as one, across beliefs and faith communities, to raise a dollar-for-dollar match to the donor's contribution and build this home.

Driven to honor Pope Francis, to provide a unifying experience for Catholic and non-Catholic volunteers, and to further Habitat's mission, this anonymous donor has greatly inspired others. Patrice took one look at this challenge and jumped right on board, bringing anyone who would listen along, "The Catholic Church declared 2016 a Holy Year of Mercy... What better time to respond to the Pope Francis Home Challenge".

TrueQuest didn't stop at just one build day or just a single dollar raised - they've been out on site two times in only two months, moving construction of the Powers family home forward with great steam. In combination with their builds, Patrice and her team have raised nearly $5,000 to see that this family has a safe and decent home to live in long after they walk off the build site. What more? Patrice has extended Habitat's reach, bringing new faces and eager hands to this mission in Chicago.

Just as Patrice has been inspired by the Pope Francis Home Challenge and by our anonymous donor, we have been so inspired by the devotion and passion of Patrice and the whole TrueQuest team.

Join in their efforts as we work towards the finish line of the Pope Francis house. See how you can get involved today.

2.20.16 Meet our Brand New Volunteer Portal

Have you heard the good news? After a year in the making, Habitat Chicago has launched a brand new volunteer portal. We know our volunteers are most instrumental to our work in Chicago, so we are thrilled to offer an improved, easy-to-use snapshot of upcoming volunteer opportunities on our construction site, in our office, and on our operational committees. We know change is scary, so check out these 6 common scenarios you may run into while navigating the new portal.

Scenario 1: You were registered on the old Volunteer Hub page for a Winter Warriors build day between February 4th and March 31st, or a New Volunteer Orientation on March 12th or March 22nd. Good news - you are still good to go. Your registration has been carried over to the new portal and you should have received an email leading you to create a password for the new user account we created for you. Didn't receive an email to create your own password? Let us know.

Scenario 2: You had a Volunteer Hub account, were not registered for the opportunities listed in Scenario 1, and are now ready to volunteer again on our construction site. In this case, you'll have to create a totally new account with the new portal (it's worth it - we promise.)

Step 1: Go to our calendarof upcoming opportunities.

Step 2: Find a date that works well for you and click into that particular opportunity. You will then see a more detailed description of the event and the positions available.

Step 3: If this opportunity sounds appealing,click into the position available, most likely labeled "Individuals at 11951 S Union Ave." Once you do this, you will see even more specific information about the volunteer day and a link to register.

Step 4: Click register and then fill out the Volunteer Application Form. Once you complete this form, you will receive a confirmation email for your build day, as well as an email to create a username and password. Once you create this user account, you won't have to fill out the volunteer application ever again!

Scenario 3: You didn't have a Volunteer Hub account with us, but are now ready to get out and give back on our build site. Simply follow the steps in Scenario 2.

Scenario 4: You are completing your hours for community service. Follow the steps in Scenario 2 and be sure to check the box labeled "Hours Require Documentation?" Once you complete the application form, you will receive an email with a short series of questions to verify if you are eligible to volunteer with us. Respond to this email with the appropriate answers and you will receive an email letting you know whether or not you have been approved within 5 business days.

Scenario 5: You want to become a construction crew leader, volunteer in our office, or learn more about our committees. Go to the portal website, click on Ongoing Opportunities tab at the top of the page, find the right one for you, and follow accordingly.

*Side note - if you are a current committee member, you should have received an email leading you to create your own password on the new portal user account we created for you. Didn't receive the email? Let us know.

Scenario 6: You want to volunteer at ReStore Chicago. Registration for ReStore volunteer opportunities can still be found on the old Volunteer Hub page. If you do not already have a Volunteer Hub account, you'll have to create one to see the ReStore opportunities.

Phew, hopefully this covers it! If not, feel free to contact our volunteer team with any questions or concerns.

2.19.16 Three of our Favorite Chicago Nonprofits

Chicago is a city full of great nonprofits that aim to strengthen our community and serve those in need. As we grow and expand our partnerships, we are constantly learning about the amazing efforts of these nonprofit organizations (NPOs) to improve the city of Chicago - so we're sharing some of our favorites with you.

Ray & Joan Kroc Center Chicago

What is The Kroc Center?

The Kroc Center is a unique community center, currently the largest in Chicago, providing members with a variety of exciting fitness and artistic experiences. This staff is dedicated to creating a safe community center full of creative, educational, athletic, and recreational opportuni