Family Homeownership and Community Leadership Education

Community Education | HomeownershipI consider that community education is one of the key factors that make the work of any community development organization sustainable.
Because of that, and because the Habitat Oarja Neighborhood was growing fast, I initiated a project focused to establish on-going community education about creating a family budget, establishing credit, understanding tax issues, and being a first time homeowner.

In addition, we were helping residents of the community of Habitat Oarja Neighborhood to establish a homeowners association and this project was providing a series of free educational classes on the legal responsibilities, community development benefits and opportunities of being part of a homeowners association, as well as community leadership education.

The materials and resources created through this project have acted as a foundation for future education courses, have enhanced social capital and community resources, and have empowered citizens to participate and have a stronger voice in local decision-making.

In Romania, there is a strong need for educational classes, such as creating a family budget, establishing credit, and being a first time homeowner. Without first time homeowner education, understanding credit and mortgage payments, taxes, and developing finance/budgeting skills, families have a much higher likelihood of foreclosing on their first home.

Community Education | Presentation

There was also a specific educational need in the community of Oarja, Arges County. The members of the community of Oarja, with the assistance of Habitat for Humanity Pitesti, have identified a need to create a homeowners association. Many of the community members in Oarja had no access to clean, running water. The homeowners association was necessary to work with the city government to establish and maintain a clean water supply and has also been critical for future road improvement projects and landscaping maintenance.

However, many of the community members of Oarja were unaware of the legal responsibilities and community development benefits and opportunities of being a part of a homeowners association. In addition, in order to establish a sustainable and successful community organization, community members were in need of leadership development and consensus-building skills. Finally, there was a need to break down barriers and increase collaboration with local government and other organizations and agencies. It was an opportunity for Habitat for Humanity Pitesti to increase its resources, efficiency, and effectiveness, through collaboration.

Education is a critical, but underfunded component of Habitat for Humanity’s effort to build sustainable communities and work to break the cycle of poverty. Working with residents to create a homeowners association was an important step towards improving the quality of life for families in this community.

Long-term goals for the project:

  • Provide high-quality, sustainable, community and economic development education (homeowner and leadership training) in the community;
  • Provide on-going support for Oarja’s homeowners association, helping the community to understand local needs, develop leadership skills, build teamwork, and participate in local decision-making;
  • Strengthen local partnerships with other non-profits, community organizations, and government agencies.

Community Education | MeetingShort-term goals for the project:

  • Establish a legal homeowners association in the community of Oarja.
  • Provide two free educational workshops for community members, specifically focusing on legal issues and opportunities of being a part of a homeowners association and community leadership;
  • Develop high quality educational materials that will serve as a foundation for on-going community education;
  • Complete four free educational workshops focusing on creating a family budget, establishing credit, understanding taxes and loans, and being a first time homeowner;
  • Strengthen local partnerships with other non-profits, community organizations, and government agencies by involving them in this project and sharing resources.

The immediate project beneficiaries included approximately 15 community members that actively had been involved in the creation of the educational materials and in the creation of the homeowners association. In addition, there had been an estimated 450 beneficiaries who benefited through participating or having a family member participate in the initial education classes. However, the long-term benefits of the project could potentially benefit families throughout Pitesti (185,000 people), Mioveni (25,000 people), Oarja (5,000 people), Stefanesti (5,000 people), as well as many additional people throughout Arges County.

This project enhanced the assets of communities in Arges County by providing on-going homeownership education and leadership training.

The project included a series of four homeowner education classes, which were focused on family budget, taxes, credit, loans etc. There was also a separate series of classes that were specifically designed for residents of Oarja community. These classes explained the legal and administrative aspects of establishing a homeowners association, the community benefits, and developed leadership and consensus-building skills.

Community Education | Community

The benefits of the project were sustainable because of the focus on education. The skills and knowledge that were transferred had on-going benefits for community members. In addition, through the establishment of a future active homeowners association, this project contributed to sustainable community development by enhancing community networks, linkages, and local decision-making.

The materials and resources that were developed through this project can be used again for additional training and community education projects and the resources can be shared with other local organizations. Finally, this project helped to establish and strengthen partnerships with local government and other organizations and agencies.

Flood Relief Project

The heavy rains from July 2005 flooded 31 counties in Romania taking 24 lives and causing an immense damage to housing, agricultural land and infrastructure:

  • Romania Flooding3571 houses destroyed
  • 2993 homes in danger of collapse
  • over 25,000 homes with functional capacity affected
  • 3,500 km of damaged roads and streets;
  • 699 average size bridges damaged;
  • 1,553 small bridges damaged;
  • 52 km water supply lines affected;
  • 408 km power lines affected;
  • 45,000 water wells flooded;
  • 31 counties affected;
  • 480 communities (villages, towns and cities) affected;
  • A total of $850 million in damage.

The rains were the heaviest ever in Romania. The country was not prepared to face such a threat and moreover several artificial factors (illegal forest clearing, illegal mining, etc) have contributed to increased destruction. The most affected were infrastructure and housing. Thousands of families either lost their houses, or their homes and belongings have been partially destroyed or damaged.

Romania Flooding | PeopleThe Romanian government was on the verge of declaring state of emergency and upon bad weather forecast, several towns were going to be evacuated.

The disaster, with glide number FL-2005-000111-ROM, was recognized internationally and has been present in international media across Europe.

At the Arges County level 14 rural localities were affected by the disaster, a total of 29 houses were destroyed, 347 were damaged and 358 ha of agricultural fields were compromised.  Over 1200 people have partially lost their home and some have been displaced.

Project Circumstances

National and international relief and disaster response organizations ensured access to clean water and food to the affected people. Other community organizations, churches, companies or private individuals have been providing aid to families consisting of food, blankets and furniture and the local authorities were focusing on cleaning the flooded water wells and repairing the damages to infrastructure.

Romania Flooding | House

In these circumstances, I considered that it was our duty at Habitat for Humanity to use the existent knowledge and resources to help the reconstruction efforts in the communities affected by flooding so I initiated a plan proposal for a relief intervention in Arges County.

Of the 14 communities affected, we decided to work in Golesti, a village 15 km south east of Pitesti were the water tide was the highest and the per capita income was the lowest.

Initially our plan was to assist 49 families from Golesti village with rebuilding, consolidation and repairs for their houses, but we ended up extending our intervention to Micesti village and helped a total of 100 families with 96 repairs of their current houses, and 4 new housing units.

Roma Community RomaniaA special group of affected persons was represented by the Roma communities that were living in improvised houses and after the heavy flooding their shelters were in danger of collapse. They were living in inappropriate dwellings prior to the flooding and the water tide over one and a half meters high turned them into insecure buildings in danger of collapse. For this reason, some sixty Roma families where sleeping outside in their yards for fear of being trapped underneath the collapsing walls.

Working in partnership with the local authority’s specialists, a very thorough specialist investigation was conducted on the situation of the affected houses with recommendations for types of repair/ reconstruction needed.

While the local government declared that they had no resources to undertake a building project to assist the Roma families, they showed interest in supporting Habitat for Humanity in such an intervention and had allocated. both at county and at local level. staff to provide us with the needed information. In the same time, the local authorities allocated to Habitat for Humanity some resources designated by the government to these families (especially construction materials).

Romanian Flooding | HabitatProject Duration

The project started in October 2005 and was finished in February 2006.

Major Activities:

  • We started by visiting all families in the flooded areas of the villages and evaluated the necessity of intervention in partnership with local governmental specialists. The results of this assessment were used in the selection process for the partner families that where included in the intervention program;
  • Contracts were signed with the partner families and a partnership protocol was concluded with local governmental authorities;
  • Immediately after, we started organizing the bids to select suppliers for construction materials and started the construction and renovation works.

Project Results:

  • Four new houses were built and 96 houses were repaired by contributing house kits, construction materials, know-how and volunteer work;
  • Over 250 local and international volunteers worked in the program;
  • The flood affected persons were involved in the construction works, together with local and international volunteers;
  • The project contributed to the local community development by applying the Habitat for Humanity model of “sweat equity” (those families able to do some unskilled work were encouraged to do it).
  • Romanian Flooding | Roma HouseHabitat for Humanity Pitesti’s activity was reflected by many national and local media and this contributed to the increase of visibility in the community;
  • The project created a very good, long term relationship between Habitat for Humanity and local governmental authorities;
  • From the point of effectiveness, the project succeeded, in just five months, to offer assistance to four times the amount of families (100 families) that Habitat for Humanity Pitesti managed to do in the previous five years of activity;
  • This project gave us the opportunity to develop expertise for further disaster response operations.

You can watch a short video about how one of the houses was built in just one day. I can certify that the house was still in perfect shape five years later, in 2010, when I visited the area.

 Average Costs:

  • Cost per new house = $6,212 (including all construction materials);
  • Cost of repairs per house = $303;
  • Value of the volunteer labor per housing unit = $1,465.

This project was financed by USAIDCHF InternationalHabitat for Humanity International and many Romanian national and local commercial or non-profit organizations.