Perhaps the most unique feature of this Habitat for Humanity project is in the nature of the volunteers that helped build this new subdivision. Casa Alegra is Habitats only High School Build Program in the nation. Project Organizer Carole Baumgarten and her team decided to use the construction project as vocational training for high school and community college students. The project provided a myriad of opportunities to experience the many facets of home and community construction. By employing this special labor force, Habitat for Humanity provided invaluable career training to students; cut low-income housing costs for HUD by ensuring free semi-skilled labor; and helped the local school district fund their endangered vocational training programs. Local schools even provided the facilities in which to build certain parts of the houses. Habitat for Humanity estimates that the use of student labor reduced the price of a Habitat home by as much as $20,000.
Because Habitat for Humanity requires that future homeowners invest a significant amount of time in helping to build their new homes (a process known as "sweat equity"), residents quickly began to develop a sense of community and empowerment throughout the building process. The scale and innovation of the project attracted a fair amount of media attention and placed new emphasis on the need for more low-income housing in the area. When each house was completed, members of the local media attended a dedication ceremony. In addition, the organization increased Casa Alegras publicity by involving the surrounding community. Local high schools, private charities, and city and county government officials distributing HUD funds were all integral to the projects completion and ultimate success.
According to project officials, the most difficult aspects of the project were finding private sponsors to donate the $50,000 needed for construction materials; deciding on the logistics of infrastructure development; and working with the schools to ensure adequate supervision of the student trainees. Habitat for Humanity used its core competencies to raise the needed funding and held many meetings with HUD and school representatives to solidify these details. "I am proud to be associated with this project. We think it was very creative and should be a model for the rest of the country," Baumgarten said.
Content Archived: April 20, 2011