Rainbow Build

Tucson’s LGBTQ community funds and constructs home for a family in need

Photos by Stephanie Anne Donoghue.

By Megan Wadding, September 2017 Issue.

The power of community is, as Aristotle put it, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. The same is true for the efforts being made between Habitat For Humanity’s Tucson chapter and Southern Arizona’s LGBTQ community.

The result of these parts is a whole that’s come to be known as Rainbow Build, the arm of Habitat Tucson that accounts new and affordable homes that are funded and constructed by members of the LGBTQ community.

These homes are known as Rainbow Houses and, according to Joseph Howell, Habitat for Humanity Tucson’s director of philanthropy, the Rainbow Build was born in 2005, with the third one just recently reaching completion.

“[The community] came together to raise awareness of the need for affordable housing, as it relates to social justice issues and to mobilize a diverse array of organizations, groups and individuals in an effort to fight substandard housing in Southern Arizona,” Howell explained.

Through Rainbow Build, the organization hopes to build a strong platform for discussion and lasting partnerships within and around the LGBTQ community while making strides toward change and improving in the lives of hardworking, local families.

A Community Conversation

Just this year alone, Habitat Tucson plans to dedicate a total of 14 homes – including Southern Arizona’s third Rainbow Build home. And, according to Howell, Habitat Tucson will construct a Rainbow Build home every year from here on out.

The Rainbow Build Committee is made up of LGBTQ volunteers who help fund the Rainbow Build. In order to fund and build just one house, it takes more than 3,000 volunteer hours and more than $90,000 in donations from the community.

“The majority of each home is built with volunteer work, with the exception being a few areas that need to be installed by a licensed professional,” Howell explained. “Once the home is complete, we sell it to a hard-working family who has completed our home-ownership program … with a zero-interest mortgage.”

The team of Habitat for Humanity and Rainbow Build volunteers come from all walks of life and, according to Howell, includes everyone from high school students up to 80-year-old retirees, and everyone in between.

“A Habitat build site is a vibrantly diverse place where all sorts of different folks come together, set aside differences and build – literally build – a stronger community,” Howell said.

Building Bridges

Kehaulani Kerr, a realtor and a Rainbow Build volunteer who been involved with Habitat for Humanity Tucson since last summer, was also looking for ways to use her talents and skills to give back to the LGBTQ community when she became involved with Rainbow Build.

“Our goal is to raise awareness about affordable housing in our community and bring to light the organizations, businesses and people in the LGBTQ community who join us in the fight for affordable housing in Southern Arizona,” Kerr said.

Today, Kerr works behind the scenes of Rainbow Build, specifically helping to fundraise and develop the organization’s relationships within the real estate industry.

According to Kevin Walters, a volunteer partner for families in Habitat for Humanity’s home ownership program who has worked on two Rainbow Builds, the intention was never necessarily for this effort to result in a home for an LGBTQ family, but rather to have the LGBTQ community build a house for someone in the Tucson community who needed one.

“[This is] us supporting the overall community by giving back,” Walters said. “Housing is one of the most important issues we face. Affordable housing; it truly changes lives.”

Home Sweet Homeowner

Habitat for Humanity’s prospective home buyers must attend various classes and contribute 250 hours of “sweat equity” before completing the home ownership program, which makes them eligible to purchase one of the program’s houses.

“They are given a family partner to help track their hours, budgets, homework and down payment schedules,” Kerr explained. “They also learn about the financing and budgeting.”

According to Howell, Habitat Tucson makes every effort to recruit a very “diverse pool of applicants” for home ownership, including LGBTQ home buyers, and this year the Rainbow Home is being purchased by a straight ally who is a single mother of three daughters.

“[This family is] thrilled to receive a home built by the LGBTQ community,” Howell said.

This year’s Rainbow Build home is in Copper Vista, which is one of Rainbow Build’s focus areas. The property was received by Habitat Tucson through a collaboration with the City of Tucson in 2012.

According to Howell, the purchaser of this year’s home was selected for Habitat’s home ownership program last year. Since entering the program, she has attended several classes where she gained knowledge in such areas as budgeting, home maintenance and various other skills that are designed to contribute to her success as a homeowner.

And, as part of her 250 hours of sweat equity, the future homeowner was able to roll up her sleeves and be a part of the construction of her own future home.

In the meantime, Howell added, the idea for a Rainbow Build is spreading nationally.

“Since its inception in 2005, Rainbow Builds are popping up in cities like Washington DC, Seattle, Minneapolis and San Diego, to name a few,” Howell said. “It’s really exciting to see a home-grown concept take root across the county.”

For more information, visit habitattucson.org/get-involved/events/rainbow-build