Living Dr. King’s Legacy: Affordable Housing and a Call to Serve

January 16, 2017 - (3 min read)

Throughout the civil rights movement, housing was inextricably linked to the call for equality. But also tied to the movement was the recognition of a need to serve.

Cities including Columbus and Parma, Ohio, are partnering with The Home Depot Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, and Purple Heart Homes to provide homes as part of their service to those in need.

As the nation pauses to reflect on the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is worth remembering that our country’s immediate response to his death was to pass legislation related to housing discrimination.

Alongside his calls for racial equality, Dr. King regularly urged people to join him in service. Only two months before he was killed, Dr. King spoke at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta and said, “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Recognizing that one form of service is taking action to ensure everyone has their basic needs met, Dr. King made civil rights, community service and housing justice fundamental components of his work.

In cities across the country, local leaders are partnering with nonprofits and philanthropies to ensure the housing needs of the most vulnerable are met. The homeless, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities have unique housing needs that can require individualized responses.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

One way cities are supporting these responses is through the donation of city-held properties. During NLC’s City Summit in Pittsburgh, the work of the City of Columbus was highlighted, as was their partnership with National Church Residences, a leading non-profit housing provider.

Columbus officials spoke about how they have revitalized entire sections of their community. As part of the city’s South Side Renaissance, the city has cleared an 11-acre site, demolished 60 blighted properties, and acquired over 100 properties.

In collaboration with philanthropies and nonprofit affordable housing developers, there are now 40 new single-family homes designated as rent to own opportunities and 14 homes for direct homeownership. In addition, a high-density multi-phase development is in process that will result in 116 units of senior housing and 62 units of permanent supportive housing.

One partner in this work was Habitat for Humanity, whose work in support of veterans has been previously been highlighted on Citiesspeak.

In the ongoing environment of dwindling resources from all levels of government, partnerships with philanthropies are critical for developing, preserving and modifying homes. In service to veterans and their families, The Home Depot Foundation has committed to invest a quarter of a billion dollars to veteran-related causes by 2020. Since 2011, the Foundation and Team Depots, associate-lead groups of volunteers, have improved more than 26,700 homes and 6,900 veteran facilities in more than 2,000 cities.

Also in Ohio, a partnership between Purple Heart Homes and The Home Depot Foundation has been highlighted as an example of service work made possible because of the connections between cities, philanthropies, and non-profit housing providers.

As we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. King, local leaders have an opportunity to reflect and recommit themselves to their mission of service to the community. Beyond today, that commitment must live on to not only help those in need, but also inspire those around us to join us in service.

About the author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter @HarigBlaine.