Habitat for Humanity’s problems in Dallas are a problem for all of us

Habitat for Humanity’s problems in Dallas are a problem for all of us

Those of us who have followed the arduous struggle to build affordable housing in Dallas know well how powerful Habitat for Humanity once was in this city.

In parts of Dallas where city-sponsored community housing development organizations showed little progress in creating many new homes, Habitat reliably poured the foundation, set the frames and handed the keys to the people who needed them, offering dignity and equity in neat little packages of bricks.

We didn’t know how badly Habitat had declined in recent years until we read an investigative report by our editorial colleague Sue Ambrose.

Their findings show that Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity has gone from being one of the best-performing chapters in the country to an organization in urgent need of regrouping and starting over.

We hope that happens under its new CEO, Ashley Brundage, who took the helm in May in what is clearly a turnaround job. We wish her all the best in getting Habitat back to what it was between 2011 and 2018, when, as Ambrose reports, the organization was selling nearly 100 homes a year. From 2019 to 2023, it sold just 33 homes a year, according to Ambrose’s analysis.

Their report provides troubling information that the problem is not just on Habitat’s part. There is also a disconnect at play between the organization and Dallas City Hall. Some of the interactions between Habitat and City Hall defy understanding, such as the fact that the city and Habitat were unaware of the zoning of the property Habitat owned. Or Habitat’s attempt to sell for over a million dollars a piece of land it clearly could not sell because it had committed to building affordable housing on the site.

Reading Ambrose’s story is like reading a tragedy of errors, because it ends with fewer families getting the affordable housing that is desperately needed in our city.

That said, we know that building affordable housing in Dallas hasn’t been easier. Everything is more expensive, from land to materials to labor. And there’s almost always resistance to construction. Habitat faces this more acutely than many organizations because it’s a recognized brand with a recognized product. Habitat homes are distinguished by their design.

The City of Dallas should do everything possible to ensure that a nonprofit that has a history of being a good partner receives excellent service, and not the kind of misinformation and disorientation that Ambrose documents.

We believe in Habitat for Humanity as an organization that has delivered quality housing to people who would otherwise never have had the opportunity to have a roof over their heads.

We know it can be as wonderful as it was in the past. That starts with understanding what went wrong and how to work toward a better future.

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