By Bethany Clarke, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps Member
Surprisingly, the vans didn’t smell on our twenty hour return drive from Austin, Texas. This was a great relief. You could interpret it as a sign that we’d all taken care to do our laundry or, alternatively, that we had packed our smelliest work clothes at the bottom of our bags.
February 8-12, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity’s AmeriCorps and Lutheran Volunteer Corps members served with the Austin Habitat affiliate. The trip was an opportunity to learn about the differences and similarities of another Habitat and to spend quality time building houses. The trip occurs annually for the members of these service programs. This year (20) members were accompanied by the National Service Programs Manager, Heather Erickson and Site Supervisor, Rhonda Thorson.
We spent our time building at a new neighborhood development with a total of 11 Habitat homes on the outskirts of the city.
Our work was divided between two main tasks for the week and we worked under the direction of Greg Ruopp, Austin Habitat Project Director, and an alum of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps.
Half of our group built a beautiful picket fence enclosing the houses. It spanned 525 feet and cost over $5,000. The other half raised roof trusses on three of the houses in the neighborhood. The sunny days and dry heat gave us super energy to get things done.
Each morning, we were greeted by smiles and an endless supply of powdered donuts. They know how to keep us happy. Every day was sunny, dry, and between 70 and 75 degrees. What perfect conditions for building!
Affordable housing is especially important in Austin at this time, because the city is rapidly growing while at the same time becoming polarized.
While exploring the city on our free day, I learned that most of the city has been built in the past ten years. The sidewalks are still shiny and you only have to take a short walk on the river to notice the proliferation of swanky high rise apartments under construction there.
Meanwhile, the working poor population is expanding and the cost of living is the highest in the state. Most people can’t afford these high rises. Renting an average two bedroom apartment in the city requires a 111-hour work week at a minimum wage job. People working these jobs need places to live.
The latest city plan, “Imagine Austin”, calls for high-density development zones and it may be a challenge to keep the housing in these areas affordable for current residents.
In other news, the Austin affiliate recently opened a new office which shares space with their ReStore. Austin was the first Habitat to establish a ReStore in the country. You would never guess that the new building used to be a Chuck-E-Cheese! The store is spacious and filled with customers scoping out materials for their home projects.
Thanks to the Austin Habitat for Humanity for hosting us and for teaching us about affordable housing in a whole new part of the country.
We are also grateful to the Great Hostel Give Back program sponsored by Hosteling International (HI) USA which allowed us to stay at HI Austin, a beautiful location right on the Colorado River. Through the Great Hostel Give Back we were able to stay one free night for every two hours of service work we provided in the community. HI USA is a non-profit organization that believes in creating opportunities for travelers to foster community with each other at Hostels and out in the places they visit.