Tulsa World, March 16, 2008: Confronting housing and hunger

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3/16/2008 12:00 AM

“Oklahoma, we have a problem.”

This variation of the Apollo 13 mayday should be sounded loudly today.

In 2007, Oklahoma was tied with Kentucky for the seventh worst poverty rate. The state’s current problems of substandard housing and alarming results about hunger found by Oklahoma’s Task Force on Hunger warrant more than a rally cry. Needed are attention and action since housing and hunger plague one-fourth of the state’s children and nearly one-fifth of the families live in poverty.

In a 2005 Tulsa housing report, some 6,000 dwellings were found to be unsuitable for habitation. Then-Mayor Bill LaFortune, inspired by Habitat for Humanity founder Millard Fuller, envisioned eliminating substandard housing in Tulsa by 2025, while making sure that all Tulsans had a simple, decent place to lay their heads at night. Our landscape has changed little since then. Poverty and substandard housing remain prevalent.

Although the Bible says that the poor will be with us always, attempts to justify being anything less than good neighbors to every Tulsan cannot be excused or tolerated. A united front consisting of civic, corporate, and faith-group representatives is needed to confront substandard housing and hunger over the next decade lest the suffering of future generations multiply, both in state and city.

Thankfully, this month numerous groups return to invest thousands of dollars and hours volunteering to wage battle against substandard housing. Through partnership with Tulsa Habitat for Humanity’s home-building with people in need, bridges continue to be built enabling groups to forget their differences while joining hands to build homes with low-income families.

Fifteen Lutheran congregations have united to build their fourth Habitat home as part of a nationwide alliance between Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Habitat for Humanity. “Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity” is a four-year, $125-million partnership that in its first two years funded construction of more than 650 Habitat homes in 42 states and the District of Columbia. In 2008, $25 million from Thrivent Financial will fund another 322 Habitat homes.

Tulsa corporations and faith groups are working side-by-side with Habitat families constructing 12 new Habitat homes this spring. Hilti helps its fourth family in 20-months with plans to build with a fifth family this fall. Hilti CEO Cary Evert is one of a growing number of civic leaders who bangs nails alongside fellow employees. Samson CEO Stacy Schusterman and Bank of America-Oklahoma President Mike Earl combine forces with associates to build with a fifth family in five years, while ONEOK, led by CEO John Gibson, teams up with its fourth family.

The voices of pastors like Dr. Tom Harrison, Asbury United Methodist, are calling on members to influence their places of work by leading their companies to work on behalf of others. Emerging are home-building partnerships between faith communities and corporations. Boston Avenue United Methodist, building its eighth home, and Newfield Exploration Mid-continent, building a second time, represent this model, as do Murphy Resources, a local home-building company, which combines with Southern Hills Baptist, each building a third time with Habitat.

More than 150 companies, faith groups, and foundations have partnered with Tulsa Habitat for Humanity helping the local non-profit advance toward its 2025 goal of helping 1,500 families become homeowners, knocking out one-quarter of the 6,000 substandard dwellings. Families will have 15- to 30-year zero-interest mortgages based on the home cost with no-profit added. The principal on the note is used to fund future homes.

The housing campaign cannot be won alone. Tulsa Habitat needs others to help it build. Currently, women are being invited to help build the eighth “WOMEN BUILD” home beginning later this spring. People and groups interested in building or volunteering can contact Jamie Cox, Habitat volunteer director, at 592-4224, ext. 205 or To learn more about Habitat and about volunteering visit .

Paul Kent is director of development and chaplain for Tulsa Habitat for Humanity.

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