The Times
  • Jimmy Carter: Habitat could give DC a lesson

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  • Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday that if Washington leaders really want to work together, they could take a page from Habitat for Humanity.
    Wielding a power drill alongside other Habitat volunteers, Carter portrayed the long-abandoned home they were rehabilitating as a two-story lesson for all those in charge of a stymied federal government.
    “You can’t put the boards down on a deck without cooperating with each other,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press and other news outlets. “There’s a shared commitment and a realization that we all have one goal to achieve ... and we respond to leadership.”
    “If Washington would just do that,” he added, and his wife, Rosalynn, finished the thought: “it becomes a community.”
    The Carters were marking the 30th anniversary of their volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, the Americus, Ga.-based Christian housing organization that harnesses volunteer labor to build and refurbish houses for families that can’t otherwise afford them. The homes are sold to at no profit to the families, who must also help construct or rehabilitate them.
    The former first couple has spent a week each year banging nails, drilling boards and shining a presidential-wattage spotlight on Habitat’s work. This year’s project spans from San Jose, Calif., to New York City.
    Friday found the Carters helping build a deck behind a three-bedroom house. It went into foreclosure 14 years ago and became a boarded-up blight on its otherwise tidy Queens neighborhood, said Neil Hetherington, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City. The roof fell into disrepair, allowing leaks that caused structural damage; raccoons moved in.
    By the end of the year, it should be home to Donette Dixon and her children. A city school health worker originally from Trelawny, Jamaica, Dixon said she has looked for five years for a home she could afford, and now the friend with whom her family is living has to move.
    Situations like Dixon’s were on the Democratic former president’s mind as he took a break from drilling to talk about Habitat, housing policy, his frustration with the nation’s campaign finance system and his concern about its growing income inequality in the more than three decades since his presidency. Income growth for the top 5 percent of households has greatly outstripped growth for the median household since 1967, U.S. Census Bureau data released last month showed.
    “American society has gone downward in its system of equity among different groups, and in ability to move upward, and in the ability of a working family to pay for its expenses,” Carter said.
    Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz
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