Housing charity faces legal action over US estate

Habitat for Humanity, the Council of Mortgage Lenders\' preferred charity and one that has been featured many times in the pages of this magazine, is facing a big legal action over shoddy workmanship and poor foundations at a Florida housing estate which former US President Jimmy Carter and 10,000 volunteers built in a 17-day burst of activity. One of the charity\'s projects is shown in the photograph above.

Habitat employs the concept of what it calls ‘sweat equity’ to help the world’s poor become home owners. Instead of paying a deposit a prospective home owner helps build their own property, usually on donated land and with the help of other volunteers.

The system seemed to work well enough when GE Home Money Home Lending invited this magazine to become involved with a Habitat for Humanity project in Durban, South Africa, where we helped build simple but solid homes for the orphans of AIDS victims.

But the charity’s modus operandi could come unstuck, in the US at least, if it is forced to use professional builders instead of volunteers.

Another issue is that residents say they should have been told the Florida estate had been built on top of a rubbish dump.

According to the residents’ legal representative April Charney, one owner found garbage to a depth of 5ft under his kitchen, and there are complaints about mildew and the massive population of roaches and rats in the development.

Given that Habitat for Humanity is all about self-help, it’s perhaps surprising the home owner in question didn’t notice the rubbish when he was digging the foundations.

And not all the Florida residents are dissatisfied.

“It’s simple stuff really – if you find mildew in your house you don’t get a lawyer, you get a bottle of bleach,” says owner Diennal Fields.

According to the charity, skilled work at the US development was carried out by professionals.