NEW YORK - The world is looking at the federal government shutdown
and sees "a democracy that's not working,'' former president Jimmy
Carter said Thursday.
The stalemated Congress needs to follow the
rules of a building site, said Carter, who is visiting the city to rehab
Superstorm Sandy-damaged houses with Habitat for Humanity.
respect authority. When we have a building superintendent or house
leader, everybody that works on the Habitat site pays attention to
instructions for the well-being of everybody,'' Carter said in an
interview with USA TODAY. "Secondly, there's no distinction about
whether you're a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew or Democrat or a
Republican or a man or a woman - you're all working for the same goal.''
89, returned to New York City's Lower East Side to visit a six-story
apartment building he helped rehab in 1984, in the first of what has
become an annual work trip with hundreds of volunteers. Just four years
out of the White House, the Carters slept on the floor of a church while
they worked with 42 others on the building, which was trash-filled and
virtually roofless. The decrepit shell became apartments now worth many
times the owners' original investment of cash and sweat equity. Most of
the 19 apartments are still occupied by their original owners.
like to start with something that's not there, just a concrete
foundation, and at the end of a five-day week to have a complete
house,'' Carter said. "We give a family a Bible and a key to their own
homes, and we all ... weep on each others' shoulders.''
wife, Rosalynn, Carter sat with a group of residents in the
550-square-foot apartment of Don Kao, who runs a drop-in youth center.
The group snacked, snapped photos and reminisced about the building's
original security guard, who had been living in a cardboard box and
earning money by recycling cans, and the way the neighborhood was before
its recent rapid gentrification.
In the nearly 30 years since he
worked on the Mascot Flats, as the building is called, Carter said, he
has helped Habitat build thousands of homes, but federal spending on
affordable housing has been in a long decline.
Tax policies that
favor the rich, loosened regulations on campaign finance, and slow
regulation of banks have all contributed to "a generic change in the
federal government attitude'' toward spending on housing, he said. "The
average person who wants to buy a home has no representation, relatively
speaking, in Washington and the folks that are lending the money and
making the profits, through their lobbying efforts, will prevail.''
is outspoken about the negative effects of "legalized bribery'' through
unfettered corporate political donations and Congress' failure to
enforce rules designed to keep banks from repeating the low-quality
lending that caused the foreclosure crisis.
The result, he said,
has been growing economic inequality that has all but killed the
American dream, a "lowering of expectations'' about the ability to get
ahead. "The middle-class people we knew when we first started building
Habitat homes, a lot of them now are having to resort to food stamps,''
Carter said. "Upward mobility, which used to be a hallmark of America,
Americans not directly affected by the struggle to find a home have forgotten that it is "a basic human right.''
decent home is key to gains in education and income for families, and
to lower crime rates in neighborhoods, he said. "A family that has a
decent home has ambition for their children to go to school, to go to
college. ... Those things don't happen when someone is sleeping on the