Announcements, Perspectives 11.06.2019

Empowering Women to Overcome Barriers to Homeownership

On a misty morning in October, twelve volunteers from our Chicago studio joined a large group of women in the West Pullman neighborhood.  There was an air of excitement and energy, as we had all spent months preparing for Habitat for Humanity Chicago’s annual Women Build event.

When we first heard that the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity was planning to build houses for six woman-led families in Chicago, we knew we wanted to get involved. The spirit of volunteerism at Perkins&Will is strong: we are always looking for ways to give back to our communities.

One of the future homeowners, Tabitha, came to speak with us to share her personal journey as a mom working to provide stability and opportunity for her daughter. “I applied to become a homeowner with Habitat for the stability that comes with having a place that is reliably yours, a place that you work for and pay for and care for. I fully believe that everything will change after I become a homeowner. We will gain a new sense of accomplishment, pride, completeness, and confidence.” she said.

The Women Build initiative attracted women from all functions in our studio, from architects and interior designers, to branding and marketing specialists, to human resources and administrative personnel.  Whether driven by an interest in construction or a desire to promote female empowerment, our team, ranging from entry to senior level, was eager to put their skills to tangible use. We did this in three ways:

Two volunteers pose at our studio-wide fundraiser happy hour
Financially, because money matters

Through our involvement with the program we learned that women, like the current Habitat homebuyers, tend to face more barriers to homeownership than similarly situated men.  Women on average earn less than men due to factors like gender pay gap and having greater caregiving responsibilities within families.  This can ultimately lead to greater debt-to-income ratio, unequal access to credit and loans, more mortgage denials and higher mortgage interest rates.

Fundraising would help support Habitat Chicago and cover the necessary material purchases and other building expenses to construct these women’s homes.  As one volunteer phrased it, “let’s put our money where our mouths are.”

Socially, because networks are powerful

While asking for money is not always easy, part of Habitat’s mission is to raise awareness.  We would need to reach out to others in order to reach our goals. By making ourselves vulnerable and broadcasting this very personal undertaking within our networks, we made some discoveries.  We saw how willing, and sometimes even grateful, our friends and family were to donate to the cause. We saw how our coworkers cheered us on, and how easily our company allowed us to spend our time on these activities.

By gathering around common goals, this experience allowed us all to get to know each other better and even build new friendships.

Together, we raised $20,425, including a generous sponsorship from our Chicago studio, which exceeded our own goals and contributed to the overall $332,800 raised for Women Build 2019.
Physically, because we naturally love the built environment

Lastly, we would not be an architecture and design firm if we didn’t love to see things get built.  By volunteering our time and energy to work on the construction alongside the homeowners and hundreds of other women, we have put our stamp on these future homes.

Women helping women is a powerful thing.  Every dollar, hour, and floorboard has counted.  We know we’ve helped make a significant difference in these women’s lives.  Only as a team have we been able to get one step closer to knocking down some of the barriers that prevent women from achieving homeownership.

“I'm excited about giving women and their families a step up at improving their lives.”

— Perkins&Will volunteer