The House That Jimmy Carter Built

Apparently, here’s another example of the old adage that you get what you pay for:

RESIDENTS of a model housing estate bankrolled by Hollywood celebrities and hand-built by Jimmy Carter, the former US president, are complaining that it is falling apart.

Fairway Oaks was built on northern Florida wasteland by 10,000 volunteers, including Carter, in a record 17-day “blitz” organised by the charity Habitat for Humanity.

Eight years later it is better known for cockroaches, mildew and mysterious skin rashes.

Admittedly, cockroaches (aka “Palmetto bugs”), mildew and skin rashes (both mysterious and otherwise) aren’t exactly unheard of in Florida. Our own home is built on fill from dredging canals from the Intracoastal, and if we wanted to go to a second story, we’d probably have to sink deep pylons. But it does point out the hazards of feel-good limousine humanitarianism, and unrealistic expectations of recipients of free stuff. I certainly would have been a little nervous about living in a house hand built by one of the worst presidents of the twentieth century. The comments are great.

11 thoughts on “The House That Jimmy Carter Built”

  1. Ken,
    it means they were built with a crawlspace, not on a slab. In such a house, the foundation and footings are only placed under the load bearing and / or perimeter walls, depending on local codes.

    Where do you live that all the houses are on concrete slabs to not know this?

    But even if you are right and I’m wrong, read my thoughts below on the bldg inspectors.

    I’ve been in and around the construction industry for all my adult life. In reading this article two things jump to mind.

    First, how much upkeep was done on these houses? Rats, roaches and mildew sounds like upkeep problems, NOT construction problems to me. Rats generally migrate into houses from filth, trash and dead vehicles in or around the house(s). Granted, they will come in from someone else’s trash pile. But my next door neighbors trashy lifestyle isn’t because of the lack of building experience of H for H volunteers.

    (I once had a neighbor clean the rats out of a horse barn, only to drive them into my house and several others nearest his pasturage I didn’t try to sue our mutual landlord or the guy who was paid to clean out the barn)

    Second, whether H for H is involved, with pros, with volunteers, or with aliens from the planet Zenon 6, the local building inspectors should have seen to it that proper grading, and site cleanup was done. If there is 5′ of trash under that guys kitchen floor, it was there when the Complete / Occupancy Certificate was issued. If all the house building trash was shoved into the crawl space, the cert should never have been issued.

    I have my own problems with Habitat, but I don’t see this stuff as their fault. My main problem is the fact that the families of the “homeowners” don’t inherit the house. The “homeowners” can’t sell at a profit, ever. And mostly, after paying for the house, keeping it for life and paying to keep the house livable, Habitat gets the house back, to resell, to another deserving “homeowner”.

    This is just Jimmy Carter’s private, personal version of the Projects.

  2. I had not heard of H for H “homeowners” not truly owning the home they contributed sweat equity and money towards. Such limitations on what they can do with the house would tend to obstruct the “homeowner” from selling to someone else looking for an entry level home and moving to a larger home, or simply elsewhere if that’s where the job market takes them. And it strips away a much of the homeowner incentive to maintain the residence.

  3. Steve:

    “the homeowners can’t sell at a profit, ever”

    Is that really “ever” or is it for the duration of the mortagage?

    “Habitat gets the house back”

    I’d swear that I’ve seen a statement that the children do inherit.

    Could you please give links/citations for the above?

  4. I’ll try to find the chapter and verse. My original information came from an online article that no longer exists.

  5. Thanks, Steve. I don’t really know much more about H for H than what you see on the nightly news.

  6. Steve,

    I Haven’t seen a house with a crawl space in a long time, but I’m sure that’s just me. In WA we had full basements. In AZ they don’t know what a basement is and it’s full slabs in what I’ve seen which is very limited.

    I can’t even remember we’re I saw a house with a crawlspace, but what you say makes sense.

    I didn’t know the owners didn’t own their habitats… but it sounds like Carter. I just hope we don’t have Carter II for the next 4 to 8 years.

  7. Here in Georgia you’ll find all kinds. My own preference would be either a basement or a slab (current home has a basement), because I’d really hate to have to go into a crawl space if something down there needed doing.

  8. Steve, almost every house I have ever seen in Arizona is built on a full slab, a few have basements, but they are very expensive (underground square footage costs more than aboveground)

    On the other hand, in California, a lot of houses have a crawlspace, and a lot of the older ones have had at least part of the crawlspace dug out to form a partial basement.

    I’ve seen H for H built houses. They are no worse than any of the other slap-dash houses built in a hurry by developers looking to make a quick buck. The problems sound like maintainance issues.(or lack thereof)

  9. Re: foundations. What kind you have depends on location.

    Here in Houston, Texas we all have slabs since: if you dig a hole a foot deep in your yard – it fills with water. You can’t have a basement! A house built on footings here (many of my relative’s houses in south Georgia have pier and beam) would quickly drill the footings into the “gumbo” and be molding on the ground. By the way our slabs in Houston crack in about 15 years and you pay outrageous amounts to foundation repair companies. Sigh.
    I have worked on a number of HforH houses and they are done enthusiastically yet by untrained volunteer labor. I shudder to think of the mistakes I made on the first couple of houses I helped on.
    Rats and roaches and mildew are much more lack of maintenance – even well built houses can have those problems. I would wonder if the location for the houses – if they were built in a blitz build they might have just used a flat, poorly drained swamp to build the houses in.
    HforH houses are better than what many people were living in, but they are best seen (in my experience) as disposable houses that should last about ten years or so. Not much longer, depending on climate. Northern Florida has a climate that is notoriously hard on houses! You either put a lot of effort into maintenance (a roof every ten years on so, replace outside plank walls after maybe 15 years, etc. or the house is going to be a wreck in 15 years. In Houston, we have the same problems.

  10. The entire site was built on top of a demolished high-rise housing project site and on part of an old landfill which was deemed “not quite contaminated enough to qualify for Superfund status”, so it’s very possible that the 5 feet of trash under one’s house is, in fact, very old trash, and not just recent construction debris.

    I have now seen the linked article come up twice in two unrelated places in the last week, and both times, I’ve thought that it was a completely worthless article, as it’s only about 5 paragraphs long, and has no worthwhile details in it at all. Especially considering the issue has been going on for 8 or 9 years, and much better articles have been written in the last few years.

    The one that immediately comes to mind came to me in the mail in the “Planning” magazine over a year ago, but is unfortunately only available online with subscription. There was a fairly balanced discussion in the article on the merits of homeowner claims, to be able to blame on H for H vs maintenance, and from what I read, I would tend to blame poor construction exacerbated by less-than-completely knowledgeable homeowners. Even the most diligent of homeowner would have a hard time keeping up some of the maintenance problems caused by shoddy construction.

    The reason this particular 85-unit project has garnered such attention, though, is because the majority of homeowners in the project have complained about issues with their homes since they were built (almost half have significantly, not just hairline, cracked foundations, 30% have cracked walls, and the majority have pest infestations), rather than just a select one or two homeowners having problems, as is almost always the case in other projects.

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