What are the best options for the millions of single-family homes that may be left behind by Baby Boomers as they age, many of which are in suburban or exurban communities? Is it realistic to retrofit homes and neighborhoods to accommodate changing demand?
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Both the housing crisis and the desire of Baby Boomers to downsize and relocate have left neighborhoods all across the U.S. struggling to retain a sense of community.
In a number of areas, however, residents who love the places where they live are banding together to solve neighborhood problems and rebuild their communities to meet changing needs.
The housing crisis prompted Habitat for Humanity to focus in earnest on the idea of revitalizing neighborhoods. While building new homes has and always will be an important part of ministry, local governments began to balk at issuing permits for new construction. They pointed to the glut of foreclosed and abandoned properties and their toxic effect on neighborhoods. We realized that we needed to place considerable efforts on repairing and renovating houses, which we can then sell at affordable prices. This helps both low-income families and neighborhoods that have been slowly abandoned.
Our Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative also allows us to take a more holistic approach to serving families and rebuilding communities. By listening to the desires of community residents and engaging partners who have a stake in local neighborhoods, we are working with volunteers and funding partners to make additional improvements such as rebuilding dangerous playgrounds, refurbishing dilapidated community centers and even planting community gardens.
Residents are taking the lead to design thriving and inviting communities. Such local engagement and leadership are critical to supporting long-term community development. As an executive director of one of our affiliates so eloquently put it, “We understand that community members should not only be partners of revitalization – they should be champions of revitalization. We don’t think we know what is right on a street where someone else works and prays and lives and plays.”
I can’t say for sure what will happen to the millions of single-family homes that aging Baby Boomers may leave behind. But I do know that from Habitat’s perspective, residents living in those communities should be the loudest voice in the answer.
Jonathan T.M. Reckford is Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity International.
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