Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Johnson, CEO of Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity, about their upcoming event from May 29 – June 1 on Pioneer Plaza at the southern end of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile (that’s the plaza right next to the Tribune building where Forever Marilyn was) where they told me they were going to build 13 affordable homes. The event is called Raise Your Hand Chicagoland and will involve 500 volunteers and several unidentified celebrities in order to highlight their activities in the Chicagoland area and raise money. The Chicago Bears will be there for the opening ceremony and the volunteers will come in 5 person teams from sponsoring corporations like BMO and Lowes.
Those across the area are invited to attend “Raise Your Hand Chicagoland” to tour a Habitat home, participate in family-friendly activities and learn more about Habitat for Humanity in Chicagoland, including future volunteer opportunities. Chicagoans can also show their support virtually using #RYHC and following Habitat for Humanity on Facebook and Twitter (@ChicagoHabitat).
I was intrigued by the notion of them excavating basements on the plaza, bribing the city inspectors, and then moving fully constructed houses through that underpass from Michigan Avenue to Lake Shore Drive. Matt set me straight pretty quickly. Here is how it’s really going to work:
- They are going to frame one house with exterior and interior walls and some siding in order to showcase the types of homes they build. I assume they are going to put a roof on it.
- They will also build wall panels for an additional 12 homes.
- There will be no plumbing, electric, gas, or HVAC involved so no need for the usual bribes to city inspectors.
- When they are done the house will be disassembled into its components and, together with the other components, trucked off the plaza to their destinations on the south side and distant lands like Lake and Dupage County.
- Even with this simplified approach they’ve been planning this event for 1 year.
I’ve often wondered how you manage a herd of volunteers that probably know nothing about construction. I had visions of all these clueless guys chasing each other around in ad hoc nail gun battles but Matt assured me that they would only have hammers and they would be closely supervised by professionals. So I called my 20 year old college daughter who has done several Habitat projects (but she never has time to talk to her father who is paying her tuition) to find out how they were able to get her to put nails straight into wood. I didn’t get very far with that line of inquiry but this last weekend they did have her on sanding duty. Matt also explained that if a volunteer was not….uh….”comfortable” swinging a hammer they could always work a booth or talk to curious onlookers about the organization.
What Kind Of Homes Will These Be?
The homes will be ranch style and range from 3 bedroom/ 1 bath to 4 bedroom/ 2 baths and 1200 – 1700 sq ft. The home that will be completely framed on the plaza will be on the smaller side with 3 bedrooms, 1 bath and only 1200 sq ft.
Who Gets Habitat for Humanity Houses?
First, you have to understand that the concept of Habitat for Humanity is to provide a hand up, not a hand out. The homes are not free but affordable and can be purchased with 0% interest loans. Habitat publicizes the availability of these homes and looks for people to come forward for consideration. The buyers obviously have to have enough income to be able to pay back the loan but a low enough income to need affordable housing. And buyers have to further qualify by attending financial education and home maintenance classes and contributing 200 – 400 hours of Habitat work.
My Burning Question
I also got to ask a question that I’ve always wanted to know the answer to but figured you weren’t really supposed to ask. You see I think in economic terms – how do you best allocate human resources? I figure if you have 500 corporate types out there, who normally make six figures, swinging hammers haphazardly you could probably have them stay in their jobs on those days and donate their salaries for that time to hire professionals with nail guns to build 10 times the number of homes. Without flinching or hanging up on me Matt politely explained that they would like people to both donate their time and their money to this cause. And I imagine that the other reason they work this way is because of the awareness that it builds, the community involvement that it fosters, and the opportunity for teambuilding with a constructive outcome.
About Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity
Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity was created as an umbrella organization for the eight Habitat for Humanity affiliates in the Chicagoland area, with a goal of significantly increasing the number of families served in the Chicagoland region. Chicagoland Habitat for Humanity can leverage capacity building and growth, marketing and advocacy as “one Chicago Habitat for Humanity” by working in collaboration with the eight Chicagoland affiliates. Within the past 12 months, Habitat has helped more than 200 families, and by 2018, Habitat for Humanity in Chicagoland hopes to serve at least 500 families every year.
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