The promise of Habitat

March 26, 1992

When Jimmy Carter left the White House in 1981, he and Rosalynn Carter pledged to dedicate their lives not to politicking but to performing "public service on a global scale." They have done so by applying their amateur carpenters' skills to building houses for the poor and homeless in slum areas of cities in the United States and abroad.

On Friday, Mr. and Mrs. Carter are scheduled to come to Baltimore to kick off a fund-raising campaign to restore 100 dilapidated brick row houses over the next five years in the depressed Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. A few months later, the former first couple will return to Baltimore to work with more than 500 other volunteers to rebuild the first 10 of those homes.

Sandtown is one of the poorest areas of the city. The average annual income of its 1,200 West Baltimore residents is estimated to be just under $7,000. Yet the neighborhood has much pride and cohesion, as has been evidenced by giant reunions of current and former residents. The goal of the forthcoming Sandtown effort is to turn some of Sandtown's poor into home owners and at the same start reducing the number of TTC boarded-up houses (650 in all) which currently dot its streets.

Baltimore is just one of 700 locations in the United States and abroad where Habitat for Humanity is bringing its ecumenical Christian mission of hope and change. "There is a state of mind in this country that nothing can be done about these conditions," says developer James W. Rouse, one of the Habitat initiators in Baltimore. "We hope to demonstrate that this kind of neighborhood can be turned around."

Over the past decade, the federal government has drastically curtailed its participation in neighborhood revitalization. Housing improvement -- as well as broader missions of social change that used to be carried out by Model Cities and other federal programs -- now increasingly falls on the shoulders of non-profit organizations.

Sometimes, federal funds still act as seed money for broader efforts. That is the case in Sandtown-Winchester, where a partnership of the federal, state and city governments and religious organizations is in the midst of the ambitious Nehemiah program to provide affordable homeownership for people with limited income. Sandtown's Habitat is a separate initiative, but the goal is the same. It deserves generous support from Marylanders.

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