Habitat for Humanity's 33rd Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project will take place in Memphis’ Uptown neighborhood later this month.
Habitat for Humanity Habitat for Humanity's 33rd Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project will take place in Memphis’ Uptown neighborhood later this month.

The need for affordable housing in the U.S. is indisputable, with one in four Americans spending more than 50% of their pre-tax income on housing. Habitat for Humanity’s Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project, which began in 1984, helps raise awareness of the critical need for decent and affordable housing.

For 32 years, the former president and first lady have traveled across the U.S. and the world with Habitat and thousands of volunteers, donating their time to build and improve homes alongside Habitat homeowners. The Carters have joined more than 92,260 volunteers in 14 countries to build, renovate and repair 3,944 homes. This year's Carter Work Project will be in Memphis, Tennessee, Aug. 21-26.

Here, BUILDER talks with Habitat for Humanity CEO Jonathan Reckford about the Work Project and the importance of affordable housing.

What companies are involved in the project?
Habitat’s amazing volunteers are the heart, soul and muscle behind our efforts to build or improve homes at each Carter Work Project. We’re grateful for their hard work, as well as the generous project sponsors we’ve had over the last three decades. While our sponsors vary each year, some of those in building or manufacturing include Dow, Lowe’s, Nissan North America, Simpson Strong Tie, ABB Inc., Cisco, Owens Corning, A.O. Smith, Schneider Electric and International Paper.

News reports say that it’s more important than ever to focus on affordable housing. Why is that?
Affordable housing creates a positive and lasting impact on families and communities. A stable home is intricately connected to better health, improved educational outcomes and the potential to earn a better living, which makes parents more confident that they can meet their family’s needs.

Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at a one-day build last year in Memphis.
Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter at a one-day build last year in Memphis.

Unfortunately, higher home prices and interest rates have made homeownership a financial stretch for many households. Virtually nowhere in the U.S. can a full-time wage employee afford a one-bedroom apartment. Even two such jobs won’t rent a two-bedroom apartment in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

When families are forced to spend too great a proportion of income on housing, they have to make tradeoffs. A survey conducted by the MacArthur Foundation reports that more than half of all adults in the U.S. have made sacrifices in the past three years to cover their rent or mortgage. These sacrifices include taking on an additional job/more hours, ceasing to save for retirement, accumulating credit card debt or cutting back on healthy food or healthcare.

How does affordable housing impact the broader economy?
So often a ripple effect occurs when families can access affordable housing. They can save more and develop more financial stability as well as pursue educational and leadership opportunities—all of which enable them to contribute to their communities and to the economy.

Affordable housing is the key to providing stability for the families and neighborhoods that make up the fabric of great communities worldwide. People who experience a sense of belonging in a community and who feel that they have a voice very often take steps to improve their own financial situations. Those investments strengthen the local economy and can ultimately create jobs and improve both the financial and physical well-being of others.

What would you like the presidential candidates to consider when it comes to affordable housing?
No matter who we are or where we come from, we all deserve to have a decent life. We deserve to know we have the power to take care of ourselves and build our own futures.

Our families and children deserve the opportunity for a better future and that begins in a decent and affordable home. The issue of housing affordability continues to grow and if we are to tackle the challenges brought on by a rapidly urbanizing population, affordable housing must be one of our highest priorities.