Sunday, December 24, 2006


HabiJax is the local affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International. We are an ecumenical Christian housing ministry that builds affordable houses with God's people in need. Established in 1988, HabiJax built its first three homes and has quickly grown to be the largest U.S. affiliate.”

Bob Carr has a senior engineering position in the team I work with. He has been volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in Jacksonville, Fl (Habijax) to assist them in their new home-building project. Having built houses for a long time, this volunteering work comes naturally to Bob. Having seen homes built by my dad, I have been inclined towards this project. Being an engineer, I raise questions to all things that interest me and answers lead to more questions. I am trying to validate Habijax through this blog.

Why build homes and not condos? Who is it for? Why this cheap? How does it help? Most answers are found on this link but digging into the details completely amazed me. The county has donated them land (free land) in deprived areas. The building materials are being donated by other organizations. Labour is voluntary. Qualified home buyers buy these homes with a zero percent interest for 25 years. They also have to put in a certain amount of labour in building other homes.

Back in India, I had come across a project of building complexes for relocating the needy people living in illegal outfits (slums). They had one such project in Bombay, close to Chembur, but the people who were given these one/two bedroom flats (condos) started selling them off illegally to other people. Easy money. I don’t think they had to put in hours of labour against building their flat, and/or other’s flats. This example is very different from building a 1400 to 1800 sq ft two/three bedroom independent home with yard all around and no garage. That is what Habijax is doing. Owning a home is a very prestigious and important goal for the people of this country. It is a dream and goal for a lot of people. I think, it is more of an ambition for people in USA than for people in Bombay. Once a family gets qualified for a home in Habijax, they are required to and willing to put in extra labour hours on evenings and weekends towards building their house and other’s houses.

I see this as a bigger challenge for America than for India because labour costs in India are so low. Habijax, with its high labour costs builds a home and fulfils the dreams of a family. Also, they improve the property value of deprived areas by having home owners build houses and pay real estate taxes.

I intend to design fool-proof processes for receiving and storing donated home-building materials, and possibly do some hard work building those homes too. I am interested to know is of similar initiatives in India.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The Swamp

Gators rule the swamp. To the uninitiated, the Swamp is the Gator football (not soccer) field in Gainesville, FL. This season, we haven't lost a single game in the swamp. The stupid Auburn team beat us.

Why am I writing about the swamp? When I said that I might go to Atlanta for a few days this Christmas vacation, Reshma asked me what was to see and do in Atlanta? Well, there aint no beach there for sure (thats why I live in Florida). Plus, I get to see the ocassional Lamborghini and Ferrari in Atlanta which is why I never looked further. Her argument was that in India, if you go from Bombay to Pune, there are new things to see and do. Puneites do some things that you can never see in Bombay and vice versa. So, I went on to explain her the whole thing about the three main cultures of the mid-eastern United States: southern, yankee and people from Texas. Other than that, you pretty much get the same food, clothes, language and way of life all over North America.

Then, there is the Ikea store in Atlanta : the National Gallery in my world, the Coca Cola Bldg etc. I wasn't happy giving these miniscule evidences of diversity. I went to work the following Monday wearing my Gators polo shirt and I was the star. Then I realized: Sports is the culture here. And there is so much variety: college football, NBA, NFL, NHL, PGA and on and on. Just like we have one Cricket in India, they have a dozen sports here.