Quote Unquote: Habitat for Humanity Director Plans to Build 40 Homes in 5 Years

As executive director of Honolulu Habitat for Humanity, Indiana native Jim Murphy manages a team that builds homes for deserving local families with the help of sponsor organizations, community resources and volunteers. He moved to Hawai‘i with his wife, Leslie, four years ago. His current goal: building 40 houses over the next five years.
Jim Murphy
Photo: David Croxford

WE HAVE A SAYING: It’s not about the house. It’s about the community that builds the house—and the family that makes it a home.


THE HOUSE WE’RE WORKING ON in Kāne‘ohe will be done by December. It’s for a gentleman who was telling the staff how, when he was a kid, his parents realized they weren’t going to be able to afford a house. Generations went by and it wasn’t until this moment that he’s able to own a house. He’s in his 70s.


PEOPLE WILL OFTEN ASK if we work with the homeless population and my answer is that we’re working with the hidden homeless: families living with relatives in an overcrowded situation or an expensive apartment. They’re just one job loss, medical bill or argument with Mom and Dad away from potentially becoming homeless. It’s a very fragile existence. We’re trying to catch them before that happens.


NEXT YEAR IS OUR 30TH ANNIVERSARY. On average, we’ve built around 2.4 houses a year. I’m not satisfied with that. I want to build 40 houses in five years. That is what I feel is our obligation; when we build 40 houses in five years, I’ll start to feel like we’re serving this mission appropriately. But we can’t do it without help.


MRS. KANIHO lived on this piece of land in Papakōlea since 1952. She grew up there, she raised her family there. Little by little, the house started to fall apart. She came to us and, in partnership with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, we worked with her and her family to build a new house. We got Mrs. Kaniho back to the only piece of land she had ever genuinely known.


THE BIGGEST PRIORITY for Mrs. Kaniho was she wanted her lānai positioned so she could sit outside and look at Diamond Head.


A MISCONCEPTION IS that I can pick up the phone and call Habitat International in Atlanta, tell them I want to build seven houses and they send me a check. They don’t fund us. To build a house here, I have to raise the money through grants, through ReStore (a home-improvement shop that sells new and gently used appliances, furniture and building materials), through donations. But the nice thing is that every dollar I raise stays in Hawai‘i.


“Come out on a Saturday, swing a hammer and help us build a house.”


WE ESTIMATE THAT THERE’LL BE about 3,000 volunteer hours that will go into the construction of any given home. Close to 500 different people help build each house.


PEOPLE SOMETIMES GET NERVOUS when they come to a build and find out what they’re going to be working on. But there’s a site supervisor and a construction manager to guide and talk them through the process. Maybe they’re building a window frame. They’ll get the measurements, the wood, taught how to cut. So at the end of the day, they’ve learned new skills too.


To learn more or donate, go to honoluluhabitat.org.