Good Works: Will Architecture for Humanity’s Domestic Chapters Ever Get the Funds They Raised?


Thursday, January 22, 2015, by Spencer Peterson
bmh-352_2007-12-11_parker-front_leslie-schwartz_web.jpgNew Orleans’; Parker House. Photo via Architecture for Humanity

The big question in the wake of last week’;s news that Architecture for Humanity is filing for bankruptcy is what will happen to its 59 volunteer-run chapters, which operated at varying levels of independence from their parent organization. The field offices, like the one in Port-au-Prince, overseeing rebuilding efforts in Haiti, are shutting down, as they were fully financed and staffed by AfH. Things are different for the volunteer-run chapters, some of which, like AfH London, have already committed to continuing their local efforts. Many U.S. chapters have echoed the sentiment, but it’;s unclear if they’;ll ever be able to access the funds they independently raised.

Co.Design’;s Shaunacy Ferro explores what AfH’;s closing seems to bode for its volunteers, many of whom only heard about it from media reports, weeks after employees had been laid off (though the organization’;s stretched-thin finances had been talked about for a while). Chapters only needed a few dues-paying members and a single architect on board to form, and were free to direct their own work, as long as it stuck with AfH’;s mission statement and branding guidelines. Hilda Boyadjian, director of the Los Angeles chapter, told the site that “from the sounds of the 100+ emails between local and international chapter leaders since Friday, it seems that most chapters are ignited in continuing our work,” which will be easier for the international outposts, which are registered as independent charities.

PIEDRITAS_web_0.jpgPeru’;s Santa Elena de Piedritas School. Photo via Architecture for Humanity

Things are more complicated for the domestic chapters, which are registered as sub-chapters of the same non-profit:

Whether the chapters will be able to continue as a united ne2rk of volunteers under the same brand has yet to be determined. Furthermore, though the chapters did their own fundraising, their funds were held by Architecture for Humanity. There’;s still confusion over whether the chapters will ever see that money again.

Boyadjian says she doesn’;t think any of the chapters will be able to retrieve their lost funds, while Veed and Rachel Starobinsky, managing director of the New York chapter, remain more hopeful. “We are all putting together documentation so we can hopefully retrieve some of those funds,” Starobinsky says. The Chicago chapter plans to argue that the donations it raised were restricted funds, specifically earmarked for Chicago-based projects. But since the money was raised under the same 501(c)3 organization and kept in the same bank account, in some cases with the parent organization co-signing, it’;s unclear whether that will work. In the meantime, some ongoing projects will be tabled while Architecture for Humanity sorts out its bankruptcy filing.

For the recipients of AfH’;s relief efforts, there’;s also more pressing question of what will happen to projects that are already underway, including renewal efforts hurricane-damaged Jersey Shore, post-tornado rebuilding in Oklahoma, and construction in earthquake-stricken Tohoku, Japan.

· What’;s Next For Architecture For Humanity? [Co.Design]


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