Photos by Asia Morris.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles (Habitat LA) hosted a special build day today in honor of Los Angeles’ Fleet Week at a four-home site in Long Beach’s Washington neighborhood.
One of the 50 service projects taking place during Fleet Week, a free public event celebrating U.S. armed forces at the Port of Los Angeles, Habitat LA President and CEO Erin Rank, legendary boxer “Sugar” Ray Leonard, active Navy personnel, and others volunteered at 1950 Henderson Avenue to build homes for multiple Long Beach families.
Yolanda Matthews and Nicholas Duggins of Arizona and Amber Ferris of Philadelphia were all Navy personnel volunteering their time for Habitat LA. All three are sailors on the USS Dewey in San Diego and were in town for Fleet Week.
From left: Navy personel Nicholas Duggins, Yolanda Matthews and Amber Ferris.
“We always appreciate it every time we go to a Fleet Week, usually the people in the area are really welcoming and warm, just always treat us with great respect, they’re always happy to have us,” Ferris said. “So we just thought that we would give back a little bit, help out the community, meet some of the Los Angeles residents and just participate. It’s been a good experience.”
Over the past 10 to 15 years, Habitat LA has invested about $3.5 million into Long Beach’s Washington neighborhood, Rank said. The area has high rates of poverty, overcrowding and crime, while kids living there have a seven-year shorter life expectancy than those living in other parts of the city, she added.
With Habitat LA’s almost 30-year relationship with the City of Long Beach, Rank said the organization felt the need to turn this neighborhood around. Habitat LA has committed to invest $20 million to $30 million into the Washington neighborhood over the next five years, with the goal of building over 100 new homes, repairing existing homes, working with schools in the area that have maintenance issues and taking care of some transitional shelters needing upgrades.
“So Habitat’s not only building houses, but we’re trying to build the whole neighborhood, and we have a long-term commitment to this area,” Rank said. “This site of four homes is launching the new beginning for the Washington neighborhood. We’re starting our deep investment beginning with this site.”
Once the homes are finished, Habitat sells them to the families using affordable financing so they’re able to become homeowners when they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise, Rank said.
“The families for all four houses have been selected,” Rank said. “A lot of them are currently living in Long Beach and they are families who are working, they have good credit, they are looking for an opportunity for a handup, not a handout. They do 500 hours of sweat equity helping build the houses.”
Future homeowner Eugenia Chavez.
Eugenia Chavez, a mother of three daughters who will be moving from Hawthorne into one of the homes with her husband and children, was helping with the build this morning. She says her youngest wants to be a teacher, her second child wants to be an engineer and her oldest wants to pursue a career in the culinary industry.
“It’s overwhelming, sometimes it’s an emotional rollercoaster,” Chavez said. “I am excited, it’s a change, I’m open to change, I think all change is great, it happens for a reason. It’s this joy knowing that my children will be able to have a stable home finally.”
Professional boxer of 50 years Ray Charles Leonard, well known as “Sugar” Ray Leonard, was also on site to help with the build. Leonard will he honored at Habitat for Humanity’s upcoming Builder’s Ball on September 28 for helping those in need build healthy communities through his namesake foundation.
President and CEO of Habitat LA Erin Rank with former professional boxer "Sugar" Ray Leonard.
“It’s stabilizing and it’s a foundation for a family, for those kids to grow up in a situation where they have a good education, where they have family around them, it’s just a wonderful thing,” Leonard told the Post about why he volunteers with Habitat. “I can’t see any better way to give a family a fighting chance in life.”