The smell of plywood and the sound of hammers filled a section of the National Mall last week from Nov. 11 to Nov.18, as Habitat for Humanity and Freddie Mae volunteers teamed to build 51 houses for families affected by Hurricane Katrina and Rita.
”America Builds on the National Mall,” is part of a national effort to continue in the recovery in helping displaced families living in the Gulf Coast Region.
Several volunteers-celebrities, members of Congress, Freddie Mac and Habitat for Humanity employees, administrators and local residents-are framing the interior and exterior walls of 51 houses, representing each U.S. state and the District of Columbia, which are expected to be shipped to the Gulf Coast Region and eventually be assembled into permanent housing.
Construction took place from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; the site adjoins Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th Streets.
”Staging it here on the front lawn of our nation’s capitol is to let everyone know that this not just a regional problem, but a national one,” said Chris Clarke, Habitat for Humanity’s senior vice president of communications. “There’s a great deal of emphasis following a tragedy to give and that’s fairly a short time. It’s not unusual for a society to lose interest especially when other issues come along.”
What normally takes at least six months of planning and fundraising, took only two weeks with the corporate sponsorship of Freddie Mac, Clarke added. The construction began on Friday, Nov. 11.
”We weren’t really expecting a hurricane of this proportion,” he said. “It is really rewarding that people think we’re capable of being a part of the recovery. It challenges us to work at a pace that’s above our normal capacity.”
Prior to the devastation that occurred in the United States, Clarke said that Habitat was in the process of building 35,000 homes in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, areas that were affected by the tsunami.
”We’re a big organization doing a big job,” he said. “Now, we’re doing an even bigger job.”
Most of the families displaced by the hurricanes were earning less than $35,000 a year, Clarke said.
”These are people, at some level, that were probably struggling before the hurricane. We don’t want a day to go by to help these people,” he said.
Split between two shifts a day, up to 30 volunteers work on each house, which measure between 1200 to 1500 square feet, Clarke said.
”They’re very modest,” he added.
Under normal conditions, people who receive Habitat homes must commit 300 to 500 hours to help build the home, express a need and demonstrate an ability to pay a no-interest, no-profit mortgage, which estimates to under $60,000, said Clarke. “(The mortgage) is usually half or less than what they were paying.”
Freddie Mac, a company that supports homeownership and rental housing, is providing some hurricane victims a new home, so “that other things in their life fall into place. The need is now,” said Clarke.