The Challenge of Home

Habitat for Humanity’s task within Iowa’s changing landscape

Andrew Ballard, AIA; Board Member, Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity

As published in Iowa Architect Magazine, Fall 2018. Photo by Iowa Valley Habitat for Humanity.


Habitat for Humanity seems like a natural fit for an architect, so when I landed in Iowa City a few years ago, I leapt at the chance to get involved. Growing up, I always knew which were the “Habitat Houses” in my town, and I had a vague feeling they were the site of some extraordinary kind of charity. I’m not sure I was alone in my assumptions; Habitat for Humanity is so culturally ingrained that it can be more easily recognized than understood. Now, as a board member, I am learning how the organization is more interesting, complex, and challenging than I imagined the first time I showed up to swing a hammer.

Habitat’s mission of empowerment requires an active campaign of diversification and outreach. The non-profit works in many ways: new construction, repairs, building loans, title and ownership facilitation, political advocacy, and disaster prevention and recovery. Its modus operandi is partnership, providing a channel for resources and a forum for homeownership. New owners build alongside volunteers and pay an affordable mortgage.

While single-family homes are still a broadly relevant solution, Habitat affiliates like Iowa Valley are exploring alternatives to address Iowa’s varied residential landscapes. In Iowa City, where land cost is rising, multi-family housing may prove to be a more efficient application of resources. However, complexity and upfront cost would be greater, testing the financial and operational capacity of our already lean operation. In rural areas, where need is dispersed, repairing and modifying homes for seniors and disabled residents can have the highest impact. Our Helping Hands program is broadening its outreach in Cedar, Iowa, Johnson, and Washington counties.

Expanded services requires increased resources, and we direct the lion’s share of our work toward maintaining financial viability. We host periodic fundraising events, collect proceeds from Habitat ReStore sales, and maintain a staunchly supportive network of donors, sponsors, contributors, and collaborators. However, as the community’s needs grow, we need to explore new, more flexible strategies. We’re adapting our outreach to the digital media landscape and testing ways to harness our construction expertise to direct more revenue to the lower end of our income range target.

If building projects are the fruits of the Habitat for Humanity tree, then the fruits’ seeds are its true mission. The aim is generational. Even when Habitat homeowners continue to struggle with low income and the setbacks that can accompany it, we see the next generation — the one growing up in a stable household — thriving. Benefits to the community grow from there.

I enjoy Habitat’s complex challenges for the same reasons I enjoy the breadth of architectural practice. Architects are trained to think flexibly and collaboratively; to lead, coordinate, cajole, and play the long game. Habitat for Humanity fits that bill nicely. I strongly encourage more people in our profession to get involved.



We’re excited to announce that six projects designed by Neumann Monson have received an American Institute of Architects (AIA) Iowa Design Award, including three awards for Excellence in Craft. Only seven projects out of more than 70 entries were selected to receive Design awards and five projects out of 30 entries were selected for Craft awards. The awards jury was comprised of building design leaders from across the country who selected projects from a wide field of entries in recognition of the firm’s excellence in architectural and interior design.

AIA Iowa Excellence in Design Awards:

·         Dubuque Intermodal, Merit Award

·         Lone Tree Wellness Center, Merit Award

·         Harrison & Sabin, Honorable Mention Award


AIA Iowa Excellence in Craft Awards:

·         University of Iowa Voxman School of Music curtainwall (with Architectural Wall Systems and LMN Architects), Honor Award

·         Market One custom perforated steel stair (with Johnson Machine Works), Merit Award

·         University of Iowa West Campus Transportation Center skywalk handrail (with Sadev), Merit Award


Thank you to our clients and partners for making these projects a true success.