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“I don’t know how anybody could be against Habitat.”
That statement from the executive director of D.C. Habitat for Humanity demonstrates the reality-muffling effect of the free ride that the media and the political elite have given the organization. In a free and diverse society, people are “against” the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church, the NAACP, and major-league baseballor at least disagree with them and hold them accountable for their actions. It should be no surprise to a professional nonprofit administrator that the same applies to Habitat for Humanity, that responsible and well-intentioned neighborhood activists in Northeast Washington could oppose a Habitat project.
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization run by imperfect human beings in an imperfect way. It is largely controlled by upper- and middle-income suburban whites, yet has its major impact on lower-income communities of color. It has no obligation to meet many of the environmental, labor, and accessibility standards that other subsidized housing meets. It depends on direct and indirect federal and local subsidies, while serving as a poster child for those who claim we can meet the nation’s housing needs with no help from the government. And it provides an opportunity for corporations and politicians to repair besmirched reputations in one Saturday spent hammering nails, or with a few donations of surplus material.
Of course, Habitat for Humanity has done a great deal of good. In fact, most of the good stories about Habitat are true. But the other stories need telling, too, at least until all of us, especially those who support and help run Habitat, have some balanced picture of the organization. Thanks to the Washington City Paper for telling one of those other stories.