Putting Habitat for Humanity on trial?

In September 2011 a violent home invasion occurred in the Glen Abbey neighborhood of Alpharetta and was widely reported in the news. This neighborhood was built by Jim Cowart Residential – a fact not reported in the media. Why? Because it’s irrelevant and doesn’t explain the crime in any way.

On Sunday a boy was senselessly murdered in Milton. Several local news outlets saw fit to mention that the neighborhood was built by Habitat for Humanity. Is this a necessary thing to report? I don’t believe it is. These townhomes are owner-occupied just like the homes in Glen Abbey. So why bring it up?

When you report a story in this way you’re making an insinuation in an ever so subtle way. And unfortunately some in our community are making very direct statements on online forums about Habitat communities and crime. It’s ugly, disrespectful, undignified and not appropriate so soon after such a tragedy.

The insinuation is that families that live in Habitat communities are undesirable or prone to crime or violence. The simple fact is that this kind of crime can occur anywhere. There are broken families in every neighborhood. There are people prone to violence in all walks of life. This murder could have happened just as easily in Windward or White Columns.

Habitat for Humanity does amazing work. Dragging them into this discussion is irresponsible. Let’s put this cowardly step-father on trail and not this amazing charity. And let’s not demean Habitat families who quite literally built their own homes in addition to paying for them.

Now is the time to mourn the loss of this young man and support his family and friends at Alpharetta High School. Say a prayer for them and hug your kids.

32 Responses to “Putting Habitat for Humanity on trial?”

  1. Travis Allen February 14, 2012 at 7:10 am #

    Thank you Lee, I don’t think I could have stated it any better.

  2. Todd February 14, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    The people who committed the home invasion in Glen Abbey were not residents of Glen Abbey.

  3. B February 14, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Amen. Habitat is an amazing organization and doesn’t deserve bad publicity – nor do the innocent folks who live in that neighborhood.

  4. Cool Papa Bell February 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Hum, why does the media bend over backwards telling us how a community or crime happens to somebody from a well-to-do neighborhood? Columbine, Natalie Halloway, Fred Tokars, the recent murder at the Dunwoody childcare center. I could go on and on.

    Anyone who has a Habitat House perhaps needs and deserves help. But frankly probably made more bad decisions in their life than good ones to be in that position. Necessary to report? Perhaps not? Relevant? Yes.

  5. A February 14, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    Thank you for speaking out, Lee. I hope Bob Pepalis at the Patch and the Revue editors apologize on their sites/paper. Habitat is a wonderful cause and definitely should not be associated with this tragic incident.

  6. Travis Allen February 14, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    @Papa

    How does mentioning Habitat for Humanity add anything newsworthy to the tragedy?

  7. Sharon Kurnett February 14, 2012 at 5:28 pm #

    Well said.

  8. Cool Papa Bell February 14, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    Travis, when heinous crimes like this occur, the media ALWAYS uses adjectives to accurately describe the neighborhood. Should they not say, “Upscale gated community” or “working class neighborhood either”? When did we start taking issue with frankly 100 percent accurate descriptions of a neighborhood?

    The media reports that a lot of crimes were committed in the projects of Bankhead Courts and like the SPECIFIC examples above find irresistible emphasizing when the wealthy are hit by crime.
    You tell me when is it okay for the media to paint an accurate representation of the neighborhood and when should they cover up a factual representation. Sorry now the media is accurately reporting something and we rip them for that. I guess they can’t win.

    Do you take issue with Alpharetta being called an “affluent high-tech suburb?” Did you fly off the handle when we were told what an affluent neighborhood Sarah Tokars lived in? Did you question why the accurate account of where Tokars lived added “anything newsworthy to the tragedy?”
    Did this mean rich, successful lawyers were put on trial?

    So you tell me when it’s fair to describe the neighborhood and when we should not be too truthful.

  9. B February 14, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    Relevant? No. Judgmental…or Self Righteous? Yes.

  10. Travis Allen February 15, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Papa, I was 15 when that happened, North Point Mall wasn’t yet open and Alpharetta was not even a fraction as developed as it is today. North Point Parkway was Windward Parkway and Windward Parkway was Union Hill Road.

    I don’t really appreciate the insinuation that I would “fly off the handle” that’s a little extreme isn’t it?

    I’m just trying to point out that by labeling this neighborhood it gets people talking too much about the wrong thing.

  11. Cool Papa Bell February 15, 2012 at 8:30 am #

    Travis, I asked the “fly off the handle” as a rhetorical question towards a high profile case in Atlanta, in which via the media, kept describing the neighborhood. But again, this is the rule, not the exception.

    Still trying to figure out why Habitat communities should all of a sudden be the exception to what the media has done for decades.

    “It gets people talking too much about the wrong thing.” Which is ironic. The media mentioned it–because it is fact.” Guess where the only place I know of that has focused on the fact it’s a Habitat community? Right here.

    The next time a tragedy happens in, “an exclusive gated community” I will focus on the tragedy, just as everyone did on the Milton tragedy. But I don’t object to also added an accurate fact about where it occurred. It’s standard practice.

  12. Kim February 15, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    This doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. It is a factual piece of information. The fact that people are reacting as they are indicates that it touched a nerve and must be of some relevance to a good number of people, else it would have gone unnoticed.

    I recall not so long ago the media was taken to task for not mentioning that a couple of robberies in Alpharetta had taken place in the Indian community. If they had mentioned it right out of the gate, my guess is someone would have claimed it was an irrelevant detail, when in fact it turned out to be very relevant in that case.

    This same argument could be taken to irrational ends, like not printing the names, ages, or addresses of people in the police blotter. The aggregate information could cause some conclusions to be drawn, right?

    It seems like people are being too politically correct. Too much information seems better than not enough. I’d rather sift through the information and discard what I think is irrelevant rather than information being withheld.

  13. Travis Allen February 15, 2012 at 9:47 am #

    Thanks for clarifying. I believe the issue began for the most part with another local blog that has a reputation for polarizing the community.

    That blog started a poll asking if Milton should welcome more Habitat neighborhoods.

    The blog owner has since removed the poll due to the comments posted.

  14. Kim February 15, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    One more thing, it was fascinating for me to see that Habitat built that kind of product. I had always thought they only built detached homes. So while it may have been an irrelevant detail to the story in some minds, it was a new piece of information to me to file into a broader context about the Habitat organization itself.

    Here are some questions that someone may know: Are the homeowners involved in building the attached units as they are the detached? Also what qualifications must one meet to go into a Habitat resale? Since the organization touts that one will have more pride of ownership if they help to build their place, what happens to this model with respect to resales? Just curious.

  15. Kim February 15, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    Once when I was contesting the appropriateness of a product being proposed on a parcel near our home, a Community Development employee threatened me with, “You better take what you get or you might end up with a Habitat property.” Just sayin’

  16. Alpha Girl February 15, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    When I heard about this event, I immediately felt sorrow for the family and for the friends and classmates of the poor boy who died. Not once did I think of this as a crime that I should be concerened about in terms of living so close to where it took place. Therefore, the fact that the event took place in a home built by Habitat for Humanity has no relevance at all for me.

    Furthermore, it’s erroneous to assume that everyone who lives in a Habitat-built community “made more bad decisions in life than good ones.” Frankly, many people in our country–and yes, right here in our own backyard–do not have the same opportunities as others who are able to purchase homes without assistance.

    And, when does a home built by Habitat for Humanity become simply “a home?” As this post rightly points out, most people do not refer to their communities by the name of their home’s builder for very long after all the homes are purchased. Sure, media often reports on “gated communities” and such, but why then was this community not simply described as a “townhome community?”

  17. Kim February 15, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    Without injecting my personal opinion, I just want to point out that all these comments are your OWN projections onto the meaning of Habitat. Maybe the journalist included that piece of information as he would a “gated community” with the implication of “Can you believe this happened here?” Don’t you see that you all are projecting your own meaning… you are ascribing motive to the journalist that cannot be assumed from a mere statement of fact? Why?

  18. Travis Allen February 15, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Agreed, my concern was more with the other blog that started a poll that in my opinion only served to reinforce negative stereotypes regarding Habitat for Humanity.

  19. Cool Papa Bell February 15, 2012 at 11:47 am #

    Alpha, I don’t mind being taken to task for what I did say, but certainly not for what I didn’t say.

    I said: *probably* made more bad decisions in their life than good ones to be in that position. I did not say “*everyone*” who lives in a Habitat-built community.

    “but why then was this community not simply described as a “townhome community?’ ” Using the “logic” of above, is that putting all townhouse communities “on trial.” Frankly what distinguishes the community most is that it is a Habitat.

    What if a murder happened in Generic Upper Middle Class Acres and the media said the victim “rented” a house in… Does this put renters on trial?

    Again, I ask what 100 percent accurate descriptions are fair and which are not? Where is the line drawn between covering up facts for the overly sensitive and accurately reporting them?

  20. JP February 15, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

    How about if I ask the “Elephant in the Room” question: If given a choice, which of you would truthfully prefer a Habitat for Humanity community next door to YOUR house?

    I’m curious. I wouldn’t.

  21. Travis Allen February 15, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    I live in a similar sized townhouse…without a garage, so it might actually be larger than where I live currently.

    Also, if I had a large hand in building my own house, I’d like to think it would be a point of pride to me.

  22. B February 15, 2012 at 3:09 pm #

    JP – That’s sad. You would miss an opportunity to meet some good folks. I would live next to a Habitat neighborhood and would also help build it.

  23. Rich Suburban Nudnik February 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm #

    Alright. Obama 2012!

  24. JP February 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    @B – Why is it sad that I honestly would admit that I woudn’t want to have a HFH community built next to my home?

    The whole reason this discussion is taking place is because the perception that the “type” of person living in these communities are not the sort that most of us would choose to have next door to us – given the choice.

    I’m not advocating this is right or wrong. I’m simply saying that (while in a perfect Utopian world this wouldn’t matter)in the reality of a depressed housing market and a local economy with an unemployment rate above the national avergage – this does matter to ME.

    At least I’m being honest. All the socialists who want to hold hands and sing Kum Ba Yah can live anywhere they want (or anywhere the gov’t provides housing for them.

    Oh, and by the way. I have donated both my time and my children’s time to work on HFH homes.

  25. Kim February 16, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Political correctness is self-censorship.

  26. Kim February 16, 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    There is a class of people would be horrified to live next to most Alpharettans who live in those cheap half-million dollar homes. It is all relative. So be it.

  27. Mala February 17, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    I think the orignial article was just stating a fact and I don’t have a problem with it or think it’s implying anything. People can take the facts and interpret them in multiple ways depending on their experience: For example, people may say (1) “It’s sad that this crime happened in a prideful community that built their own homes” or (2) “It’s not surprising that it happened in a lower income neighborhood”.

    Just like crimes recently reported agaist ‘Indian’ homes, people made assumptions that the Indian families were targetted because ‘Indians tend to have more jewelery/gold’. We don’t really know however if this interpretation of the fact is the true root cause of the crime.

    I personally find it informative when ariticles ‘describe the scene’ of a crime. It basically lets me know that crime can happen in any neighborhood, any subdivision, and in any city; even in an ‘affluent high tech’ suburb. I live in a nice middle class subdivision, however my husband and I have had to call the police on several occasions after witnessing drug deals and pot smoking at our community pool/playground. It reminds me that no matter where you live, you have to keep you eyes open and keep your doors locked at night.

  28. Lee February 17, 2012 at 10:34 am #

    Thanks for all the comments and good discussion. I’m pleased that it all stayed civil, didn’t have to remove or filter anything. It got ugly on the northfulton.com discussion!

    As far as the home invasions and the Indian connection… that was very much a part of the story, not a coincidence. It was the motive of the crime!

  29. Laura February 17, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    Thank you for thinking of the students and staff at Alpharetta High School. Anyone who walked the halls of AHS this week knows that all of us here-(from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds)- were affected by this tragedy.

  30. Cool Papa Bell February 17, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

    Mala, you bring up a great point. What if a family in this neighborhood were victims of a random crime from a non-resident or their newly built house burned down? Would the bleeding hearts object then if it were reported as a Habitat community?

    What if they did a feel good story about a Habitat resident graduating No. 1 in his/her class at Milton High? Would we hear how unnecessary it is to mention she came from a Habitat home?

  31. Kim February 17, 2012 at 6:21 pm #

    Lee,
    I am glad that you did not filter or close down discussion, nor does it appear they did on northfulton.com. Good debate is healthy. We’re becoming a nation of wimps allowing pop culture to control the narrative. We must fight back by using free speech and free thought.

  32. mala February 18, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    Hi Lee. Corect me if I’m wrong, but relating the crimes against Indian-American families to gold is a plausible ‘theroy’. Also, I don’t think the perps have been caught yet, so until that happens we can’t assume that this theory is correct (though likely). The perps could also be super jerks that not only want to steal, but scare and target a certain group based on the perps own absurd racial reasons. I realize it may not be the best comparison to the HFH story, but facts and proven root causes are not always related. Sorry for the weak comparison, but I hope I clarified my point. Thanks for the discussion.

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