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Habitat's Top Hammer On the Job in Washington DC
Woman Hammering

Chapter 1: Women's house falls behind

Chapter 2: One thorny dilemma

Chapter 3: A Nader Home Inspection

Chapter 4: Habitat's first hammer - Jimmy Carter?

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Blitz Houses Built in 5 Days
By Stew Harris

Washington DC, June 19-- Easing the affordable housing crunch was a goal, to be sure. But a team of tool-toting women also planned to prove that they could keep pace with the brawniest male homebuilders at this Habitat for Humanity construction project in Washington DC.

The dueling ground was to be muddy stretch of land off Benning Road in one of this city's toughest corners. The all-woman team would tackle construction of one of 10 houses to be built in just four and a half days. Volunteers with Habitat for Humanity call them "Blitz houses," for the fury with which these single-family dwellings are built. The faith-based non-profit organizes dozens of such worksites every year.

But this one would be different. Just 10 minutes from the U.S. Capital, powerful lawyers were to labor under the direction of humble tradespeople -- and one very low key ex-president: Jimmy Carter. Carter and his wife Rosalyn work one Habitat project each year.

"You know, we don't give anything away except a little companionship and partnership and affection," Carter told The Public WebWorks. "The families put in 100s of hours on their own homes. The families have to pay the full price of the house, but they don't have to pay any profit and they don't have to pay any interest." (See video of Carter interview with Ralph Nader) That's how Almeada Allen and her three children were able to afford the Habitat blitz house being built by the all-woman crew assembled at worksite number 10.

"I won't have to worry about them going to a play area a couple blocks away," said Allen, who is moving her kids from an apartment building. "They can play in the back yard or sideyard," she said, pointing to the where a yard will surround unbuilt home.

Trouble is, after day one, the women's house had fallen badly behind schedule and the women were debating whether they would any help from men catch up.

Pacing nervously, Clara Faulk did not look happy. Faulk broke into the construction business years ago by offering her carpentry skills for free until foremen were convinced she could carry her share.

By the end of day one, the reed thin blonde was arguing with her forewoman. She was seeking permission to stay on the job and finish those first-day tasks that the all-woman crew failed to complete. The women's house stood behind her, four studded walls without a roof. Twenty feet away began a line of nine other blitz houses, each with roof trusses neatly installed and exterior sheathing in place.

"C'mon, I can put my hair under my helmet and nobody will know I'm a woman," Faulk pleaded. It was an obvious point of pride.

"We need you fresh and rested for tomorrow," said Mary Olive Johnson, looking up at Faulk's tanned face.

A television news crew maneuvered to capture their exchange. The two smiled, embarrassed. "Hey, will you get out of here!" Faulk said, gently guiding the crew away.

Faulk got her way and worked until 10 p.m. with a crew of men assigned to the "elves shift." It was a 16 hour day.

The next morning, back at the worksite, she was hoarse. "You know, these ladies type and they're housewives and they don't do physical stuff every day," Faulk said. "So it was rough on them--extremely rough. But they hung in there and they didn't go sit in the car." Each successive day, the women came closer to keeping up with the blitz schedule. By the last day, spirits were high as they rolled paint over interior walls and sod across the yard. The house was completed on time. Each house is sponsored by a different corporation or organization which raises $50,000 for materials. The women's house was sponsored by the American Legion Women's Auxiliary while other houses were sponsored by banks, utilities and unions.

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