SAN FRANCISCO -- On Saturday morning, a group of San Franciscans were given the ceremonial keys to new homes that they will actually own, all thanks to an organization that's been building affordable housing for decades -- Habitat for Humanity.
The newest homes on Amber Street in the Diamond Heights district come with all the modern features and one that feels like something from the distant past in this astronomically expensive corner of the world: ownership.
"I'm so proud -- so proud -- to be here today to celebrate our eight newest Habitat families," Maureen Sedonaen, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Greater SF told a crowd assembled in one of the garages of the new complex.
One by one, the families were officially welcomed to their new homes. Half of them came from a city list of families displaced from their homes in the 1960s and 1970s.
"They moved out of their places, where they had to move out of the Bayview and the Western Addition during redevelopment," Sedonaen explained. "These folks represent to their families the journey to the dream and the dream is here. They are living it!"
For most, like Kristen McLeod, the idea of owning a home in the city was more like a pipe dream but Habitat makes it possible by leveraging the volunteer work of prospective homeowners.
"I was here quite a bit doing all sort of things, as well as my family and friends that would volunteer for me, as well. So, it was a community effort," McLeod said.
She put in the requisite 500 hours of work, including painting all the bathrooms in the complex.
"So, it's like we went from one bathroom to another in this unit and then we went downstairs and we did the same thing," she said, proudly. "Everything works! It's almost like a miracle, right? It starts with one thing that you help with and then, you know, look at this! The rooms are just gorgeous!"
Downstairs, the Pittman family was getting a look at their new home, including 5-year-old Shaun who pointed out the best part of having his own room.
"If I don't want no one inside, I could just close the door and lock it!" he said.
Habitat had to unlock a few doors at City Hall as well. Eric Shaw, the director of the mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, said the city's rules didn't account for a construction project using volunteer labor.
"Sometimes we have to adapt how the city works to what the need is at the time," he said. "And I think the power of Habitat for Humanity and its residents was that they had a different need than how we had done things before and we were able to adjust to that."
After completing the 500 volunteer hours, Habitat for Humanity homeowners get a zero-percent interest mortgage with payments capped at 30 percent of their income. Habitat CEO Sedonaen said the public should demand that more resources go into projects which give residents a realistic opportunity to own the places they live.
"Then, I think, the elected officials need to stop arguing with each other and get solutions that get things done and make it happen," she said. "And I think ... it is hard. What we do is very hard but it's not impossible."
It's a lesson for dealing with a housing crisis and giving people a chance to own the American Dream, rather than just renting it.
for more features.