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Habitat for Humanity: Jimmy Carter Building Homes in Los Angeles


Since 1984, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, have helped build homes for the poor through a charitable group called Habitat for Humanity. As we hear from Mike O'Sullivan, the Carters were in Los Angeles to announce a project in that city.

Habitat for Humanity builds homes year-round, but for one week every year, Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter lead thousands of volunteers in sawing wood and hammering nails. The annual effort, called the Jimmy Carter Work Project, results in dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of additional housing units.

Last year, the charitable work took the Carters to India. Earlier projects had taken them around the United States and Canada, as well as to Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, the Philippines and Hungary.

On a vacant lot in South Central Los Angeles, Mr. Carter and his wife announced their next homebuilding effort, planned for later this year, building 30 new homes and repairing 70 older ones in poor parts of this city.

"It is very important to come to Los Angeles because you have a special problem here. The average family that pays rent makes about $35,000 a year, and the price of homes in Los Angeles in the last four years has more than doubled," he said.

The average home price today in Los Angeles is $550,000, more than 15 times the income of the average renter. Habitat builds its homes at a much lower cost by using volunteer labor, then offers the new homeowners a zero-interest loan, to be repaid over 20 years.

Local officials say that with rising home costs, Los Angeles faces a crisis, so they are injecting $100 million into housing projects, in addition to $200 million committed the past two years.

Jimmy Carter, now 82, has stayed active since leaving the presidency in 1981, after serving one term in office. He occasionally speaks his mind on controversial political issues, but focuses much of his time on human rights, conflict resolution and international development. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his efforts.

Among the high points of his career, Mr. Carter helped shape the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, which provided a framework for Middle East peace talks.

But he says his work with Habitat is among his most satisfying. The organization completes a new home for a family somewhere in the world every 26 minutes. New homeowners put in 500 hours of work themselves, making an investment of what the organization calls "sweat equity".

The homes are made possible by thousands of people like the Carters who volunteer their labor. Mr. Carter says many volunteers often have modest incomes.

"They save up their money all the year so they will be able to pay their own expenses to come and join us somewhere, and work for five days as hard a human being can work to build homes side by side with homeowner families. That is their vacation," said Mr. Carter.

The former president says that owning a home can bring families self-respect and help transform their lives. He says the process is emotional for everyone involved, especially when the houses are completed and the owners take possession.

"We give the people a Bible that I sign. And we give the people the keys to their own house, and we all cry," he said.

Mr. Carter and his wife will be back in Los Angeles for five days' of construction in late October and early November.

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