April 10, 2003

Students Discuss Crisis in Housing

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HabiFest, a student-initiated, youth-led and youth-focused day of awareness about poverty housing took place at Cornell yesterday. The event was a part of an effort started last year by Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI) to mobilize campuses across the United States and to educate students about the ills of substandard housing.

Speakers at the panel discussion that closed the day’s events included Prof. Rolf Pendall, city and regional planning; Fraser Williams, a work site coordinator; and Shik Lee, a Tompkins County architect and volunteer.

A video created by HFHI preceded the panel discussion. The video briefly explained the organization’s origins and featured several of their projects around the globe. Pendall then gave a presentation addressing the national crisis in affordable housing and its manifestations in upstate New York.

Pendall discussed in detail the problems of increasing overpayment for housing and rampant overcrowding in rental housing, among other issues. He also stated that this year were more than 38,000 homeless people in shelters in New York City alone.

Pendall described his view of HFHI thus: “I see Habitat as running its own universe compared to all the other housing projects going on, possibly because of its faith-based mission.”

When asked how students might be more involved with local governments in finding solutions to housing issues, Pendall replied that “Habitat can get more sites, expertise, services in partnership with organizations that have professional staffs.”

Williams then addressed the audience, which was composed mainly of board members from Cornell’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity (HFH). He urged students to get involved in the selection process for families to receive housing.

“Basically when people get started on something like this, they don’t have the family in mind,” Williams said, referring to students who participate in HFH-sponsored work trips to a building site in Newark Valley every Saturday. “You have to know the family and know whether they want what you’re giving them.”

Williams explained that many underprivileged families lack the self-esteem and motivation to help themselves, sometimes not even knowing how to balance a checkbook or to plan far enough ahead to buy groceries for a week.

Matthew Moake ’04, president of Cornell’s chapter of HFH, mentioned his goal of “[reaching] out beyond ourselves in order to expand,” and becoming more active in enlisting the participation of students on campus, rather than merely inviting them to join HFH meetings.

Archived article by Evelyn Ngeow