World Habitat Day was established by the United Nations as “a day to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and on the basic right of all to adequate shelter.” As a transplanted St. Louisan and CEO of our local affiliate, Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis, I am proud to celebrate the work our organization has accomplished in filling a critical need in this community.
Since our beginning in 1986 – the same year as World Habitat Day was created – Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis has built more than 400 homes throughout St. Louis city and county. Contrary to popular belief, not even one of those homes has been given away: in fact, every home we build is purchased by a low-income homebuyer who has devoted at least 350 hours of “sweat equity” service and makes monthly mortgage payments – just like anyone else who buys a home. To date, more than 1,600 men, women and children have lived and thrived under the roof of one of our homes – an important first step toward creating a more sound economic future.
As I celebrate Habitat Saint Louis’ accomplishments, I also look toward a future with many challenges – for both our organization and the St. Louis community. Housing costs in our region continue to increase at a rate greater than salaries, which creates an often crippling burden for families living at or near the poverty line. Demand for our services is tremendous, with more than 5,800 calls each year from people desperately in search of a way out of substandard and overpriced housing. I wish we could help all of them – but the simple reality is that our resources are limited: we can build between 15-25 houses in any given year – and how many is entirely dependent on how much funding we can raise in our own community.
I truly believe that St. Louis is a city on the verge of greatness. Companies are investing in our region, bringing jobs and opportunities that will strengthen our economy. But with that influx of cash also comes the responsibility to ensure that this increase in financial health for some does not create a greater burden on those who are living paycheck to paycheck, barely making ends meet. Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis seeks to level the playing field by providing an opportunity for people from all walks of life to work together to build homes, and create greater stability for our entire community, one family at a time.
In order to accomplish our goals, we need your support – your volunteerism, your financial contributions, and your advocacy. It may surprise you to learn that we only receive about 2 percent of our operating funds from our parent organization, Habitat for Humanity International, and we must come up with 98 percent of our annual budget by ourselves. If you want to build homes that will benefit people and neighborhoods in St. Louis, it is crucial that you make your contributions directly to our local affiliate at 3830 South Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63118, or online at www.habitatSTL.org. The more funding we receive directly from the community, the more homes we can build and families we can help to build a promising future.
I am grateful for every individual, ecumenical partner and company that helped Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis in our achievements thus far; they have been catalysts for progress in our region. World Habitat Day celebrates all of their efforts to work toward a St. Louis where everyone has a decent place to live. Together, we can continue this mission to build homes, communities and hope.
Kimberly McKinney is CEO of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis.