For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Psalm 30:5

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Green Fingers and Social Justice

Never underestimate the power of a simple act. 

The house we worked on after one day of work. The paved sidewalk and gravel driveway hadn't been laid at this point. Also, the flowers hadn't been planted. The green, cream, and brown were all painted by the volunteers yesterday. Before this, it was just all white and looking rather poorly! 

A couple of weeks ago, we came to know of the opportunity to be involved in 'A Brush with Kindness', Habitat for Humanity's exterior home preservation service. They were seeking out volunteers to contribute a weekend of time and energy into a makeover project for a home in a low income neighborhood in East Nashville. 

Many of us know of Habitat for Humanity because of its home building projects in Latin American and African nations, where affordable housing is provided to many who need it. I've heard of friends who've gone on project trips with Habitat over the summer when they were attending college here in the USA, and spend a fortnight or so building houses. 

Fewer of us, though, may have heard of 'A Brush with Kindness', part of Habitat's ReConstruct arm. Taken from their website:
ReConstruct’s A Brush with Kindness is a neighborhood revitalization/stabilization program designed to assist existing homeowners with minor repairs, maintenance, painting, and landscaping.
On one level, this serves the homeowners themselves, who might otherwise not have been able to afford to restore their homes without this help. Mr M, the owner of the house we worked on, for example, suffered a stroke some years back, and later lost his wife and daughter. He certainly wouldn't be able to accomplish all we did for his house today himself - the painting of the whole exterior, paving of a sidewalk, laying gravel for a driveway, and landscaping of the front yard. 

On another level, though, this serves the neighborhood and the larger community too. These homes in low income neighborhoods are frequently in a state of disrepair and dilapidation. Property value is low, and the community risks being bought over by developers for building condominiums or luxury apartments. For those of us who are in a privileged position, this means more housing options - for others, though, this means a reduction in the amount of affordable housing available in the community. The implications? Increased homelessness. 

I'm not sure that I'll be looking at new retail or luxury residential building projects with the same eyes anymore now. I certainly hope I will not. Social justice issues abound in our communities; there remains so much more for me to learn and act upon.

When I think of luxe urban redevelopment projects, I think of Burger Up, a popular burger place in what we've come to dub the "Holland V" of Nashville, a enclave of trendy eating places and (unaffordable) housing. I now wonder... who was this at the expense of?

When homes in low income neighborhoods get restored, though, the whole community stands a better chance of not being overtaken by urban redevelopment. Property value of restored homes increases, and affects the property value of the surrounding houses and the neighborhood as a whole. Homeowners may be inspired to take better care of their property too, thus further increasing property value. This is what we want - virtuous instead of vicious circles! 

It may seem so small a thing, just painting and landscaping for one house, but I am amazed to think that this one simple act of kindness can make such a big difference. 

Side note: It was fun working with others on applying two coats of paint to the back of the house, while getting to know their stories and letting them get to know us too. It was great cool weather too, which is amazing, since it was 35 degrees celcius earlier this week! After 7 hours or so of painting, though, we were exhausted, so we went to Pinkberry, our favorite Froyo place for arguably a well-deserved treat, and promptly came home for a 3 hr nap. 

P.S. Does anybody want to guess the reason for "Green Fingers" appearing in the post title? Leave a comment if you'd like to hazard a guess! 

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