Master CraftsMon

Monday, May 15, 2006

Could Habitat for Humanity produce more houses?

Master CraftsMon - Aired Monday, May 15, 2006 at about 11pm CST - Segment 3

Let me start over. When I started this program 24 weeks ago, I approached the problem incorrectly. The first project I threw out 24 weeks ago was to increase the number of houses produced by Habitat for Humanity nationwide by 100000 when fully implemented. In short the goal of this project is to make an additional 100000 houses available to poor people under the Habitat for Humanity project... each year... nationwide. Remember, I said nationwide, not local. That is a very important point so write that down for future reference. What I need you to do is help me get together a presentation to Habitat for Humanity, so that they would be interested in doing the project.

The basic idea here is that people go to sporting events. People over the years have lamented that we can spend a gazillion dollars on sports stadiums, but not a penny on relieving the plight of the poor. What if we asked people at sporting events to volunteer to build houses for the poor? Do the math. How many professional sports stadiums are there for football, basketball and baseball? Now, how many college sports stadiums are there for football, basketball and baseball? Semi-pro? Why not? High school? Interesting concept that? Then you have to do the math on how many people actually attend such events and assume that between 1% and 0.1% of the people would be interested in doing the project. I don't know about you, but that looks like to me that both of those numbers are kind of large. You divide the number of stadiums into 100000 to see how many houses per stadium you could produce, then you divide 100000 by the number of people who might participate in the project. When you do that, you can see that the project is doable. BUT can it be done in the real world?

Plus there is one other aspect of this project that you should consider. People going to ball games are not holding on to their money as tightly as at other times in their lives. People going to sports events would be more likely to donate to a project like this, IF it was associated with the team. Think about it. What if you as a sports fan could say, "Yeah, my team had an 0-50 season last year, but there are 50 families that have a good house to live in. I know, because I help build one of them." It adds an interesting dimension to the concept of being a fan, does it not? I mean, your team can stink, but your house builders could be better than the other team's house builders. Wouldn't you donate your money, if you couldn't donate your time?

Let's just talk about local for a moment. The idea I have is that we don't build the houses on a foundation. Build each of the houses on the house moving structure close to an Aggie football game. Then move the completed house to the foundation it will set on.

Some number above 26000 people attend Aggie football games each week. What if 1% helped with the four houses? That's 260 people. You can complete quite a houses with 260 people pretty damned quick. Ah, but what if it was only 0.1% or 26 people. Still that would be enough.

Ah, but what if we didn't complete the houses in the Aggie football season. So what? It's always ball season. We run with it for during a certain portion of the year, then we bounce it, then we hit it. And if you include soccer, we even kick it a lot. It's always ball season.

There is a possible problem with this. Habitat for Humanity has an elaborate screening method for choosing a recipient for a house. What if that screening method cannot physically be ramped up for additional houses? Right now, each recipient must work a certain number of hours on their own house or someone else's house. They must be trained to be responsible home owners. What if an influx of an additional families is just not doable? That begs the question: How many houses maximum can Habitat do per year? Don't know. If you will help me with the presentation, the we'll just have to find out. Whatever the number is, my method would be an improvement on the possible number of houses. Or would it?

In a Capitalist solution to a problem, you have to worry about land, labor and capital. I perceive that the biggest holdup in producing house for the poor is that Habitat has a shortage of labor. What if I am wrong?

The problem would be that you would have to have repeat people. I mean, Habitat has this training program they put people through before they allow them to work on a house. I agree with that. It is suicidal to put untrained people on a construction site. So it requires that people come back week after week to work on the project. How many would do that? I say it would be many, if you motivated them correctly.

How can people be motivated to do something for their community? The most common motivations are, of course, religion, tradition, patriotism and simple greed. There are others, but I will give examples of just these few.

What if each church in our community that was interested in helping was given the task of holding a prayer breakfast on the house building site? That is symbolically correct. At dawn you pray and the minister speaks of death and rebirth symbolized by the coming of the day. Or the sermon could be on the need for charity in a civil society. Or... I don't know, each church would have to work it out.

I mean, think about it, you pray at dawn, work to help your neighbor before kickoff, then see an Aggie football game. At the end of the day, you could look back on a day well spent. It just don't get better than that.

And why does it have to be restricted to Christians? I mean, surely there are Jewish religious communities locally that would be interested in a project like that. I know, there is a restriction about working on Saturday. A Talmudic scholar would have to ponder deeply whether he would condone such an enterprise. I would pose the question to him, "If your neighbor lives in a rotten house and you can do nothing about it, that is one thing. If you can do something about it without much extra effort, would that not be a mitzvah?" Of course such a scholar would have to consult the Torah, communicate with various religious authorities and pray for guidance from above. OR he could consult his mother... who would say, "OY, God is my witness, I tried. Oh, God, I tried to teach this boy right from wrong. Then he went off to the yahshiva and all his common sense leaked out of his head. Of COURSE it's a mitzvah, you're going to the game anyway. Why not work on a house for someone who has none?" Ah, it probably turns out that I have offended all the Jews in the world. No one has a Jewish mother like that anymore. There probably IS a religious restriction against donating your time to a worthy cause on the Sabbath even if you do have a religious service on the grounds. There might even be a restriction against attending Aggie games on Saturdays. If so, I apologize. I invite you to participate in this project, but cannot demand it, for I am but a voice from the velvet black calling to you across the gulf of our mutual incomprehension.

As for people of Islam, I worry at that. The fatwas coming out of Mecca make me wonder whether Muslims could have morning prayers on a Saturday, arise from their prayer mats and build a house for an unknown neighbor. Too much mutual incomprehension there as well. It looks like from press reports Muslims in this country consider themselves Muslims first and Americans second. To build a house for an infidel might be an unclean thing to do. I would invite Muslims to participate in such a project but would not be able to predict whether they would be interested. How would you phrase such an invitation so that it is correct behavior for a Muslim to participate?

That's the religious aspect to appeal to. And, yes, I probably left out your religion, but I wanted to make the case that charity seems to be in many religions and greeting the dawn and working for the common good is pretty normal across cultures. Pray, work for the common good and then play. Is that not a day well spent?

What about a call to tradition? Barn raising used to be a common aspect of American life. Why not set up a time and place for people not involved in religion to come and build on the house, then go off to the football game? You can be an atheist and still want to help your neighbor. I have always felt that hard work puts a certain savor on a cold drink at a good game. Could just be me.

And then there is patriotism? Al-Quida has many mighty destroyers, but such a project would proclaim to the world that we... are mighty builders.

And of course there is simple greed. Why not figure out how to allow some people to build a house and go to the game at a discount or... whatever? I just don't know what incentives are available for this one, but I do know that such an incentive should be considered.

Ah, well, that was the start of the first project. Go out to my blog and make comments and ask questions. We have a lot of ground to cover before we present this to Habitat. I'll be asking you to contact Habitat and get them involved at some point.

You might say, "Well, you can do all that." Sure, but that's not my goal. I am interested getting you, that means you, dude and dudette, to become involved in their community. I'm already involved. The point of this show is to increase involvement, not simply sit around and bemoan the fact that things are not going well and 'someone should do something about that'.


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