Does Habitat for Humanity Contribute to Gentrification?

One of my personal favorite weekend past times is spending a Saturday serving others. One such Saturday, I was on the site of a Habitat for Humanity build, excited to attach vinyl siding to a house, when one of their leaders said something that rubbed me the wrong way.  She said, “These people are getting a home in a good neighborhood”. On my way to the site, I passed several derelict, empty buildings that businesses once occupied; I also noticed that the roads were in disrepair and that this neighborhood was smack-dab in the middle of a food desert. 

Essentially, this neighborhood was lacking basic necessities that would allow its members to thrive and was seriously neglected. I wondered, “does she mean that more resources are coming because we are building more affordable and reliable housing for people with low incomes?”. That realization really disturbed me because it implied that building this home was a direct impetus for gentrification. 

What is Gentrification? Gentrification according to Merriam-Webster is “the process of repairing and rebuilding homes and businesses in a deteriorating area (such as an urban neighborhood) accompanied by an influx of middle-class or affluent people and that often results in the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.” Middle-class people, typically white, or businesses start to realize that mortgages, rent, and land are a lot cheaper in neglected areas. So, they will either buy a building, knock it down, and rebuild or build a “nicer” building that conforms to middle-class expectations. When this rebuilding starts to happen, prices start to increase. Increase prices in rent, food, and other goods forces the low-income people out of the neighborhood. 

Additionally, as similar people are forced out, the people who were originally there start to feel misplaced as critical mass for that group is no longer being achieved so they then move away. Middle-class people will say that this revitalization is good for the community because it’s bringing businesses back to the area, but they are ignoring the predominant, fundamental issue with this: people are literally forced out of their homes and have to find new places to live. 

Habitat for Humanity  is a non-profit organization that builds homes for “qualified” individuals who earn their house through need and “sweat-equity” (helping to build their own home or other people’s houses). Habitat for Humanity believes that people need affordable housing in good quality homes, which creates a stronger family and a stronger future for people both living in the house and around it. Their intentions are good, and their volunteers fill a great need by building homes for families. They are doing the exact opposite of gentrifying because they are placing people in their own homes, which they own, rather than displacing them.

However, I wonder if down the road these houses increase the rent payments for people who were living in the neighborhood beforehand. According to some protesters in Charlotte, this is indeed what happens. This seems to leave Habitat for Humanity in an ambiguous position. 

I don’t know if it’s fair to call Habitat for Humanity the ones responsible for doing the gentrifying in this situation. I think other people scheme and misuse them in a way that leads to gentrification. We live in a society that ignores and even steps all over the neediest of people. The wealth gap is continually increases, and while Jeff Bezo’s is building a mansion with 25 bathrooms, millions of people live on the