OAKLAND -- When the former U.S. President Jimmy Carter travels down Edes Avenue on Monday to help build new homes for Habitat for Humanity, Mohamed Saleh hopes he witnesses the heaps of illegally dumped trash that regularly line the East Oakland street.

Not just unsightly trash, but armed robberies, pistol-whippings and burglaries have been troubling residents of Habitat for Humanity's biggest housing development in California. Now, as the nonprofit organization constructs another 12 townhomes on the same street, some neighborhood residents are hoping the celebrated Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project brings a jolt of long-sought attention to their daily problems with crime and blight.

Mohamed Saleh lives in an established Habitat for Humanity community in the Sobrante Park area of  East Oakland, Calif., and talks about some of the issues
Mohamed Saleh lives in an established Habitat for Humanity community in the Sobrante Park area of East Oakland, Calif., and talks about some of the issues him and his neighbors have with robberies and trash dumping on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

The 89-year-old ex-president and first lady are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their city-hopping community service project by hammering nails in new Oakland homes on Monday and helping East San Jose elders and veterans repair older homes on Tuesday.

Saleh is hoping that when the Carters arrive with country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood and a legion of Bay Area volunteers in tow, they don't steer away from the unvarnished truth about his neighborhood.

"This is really beautiful, we have a really strong community," Saleh said of the Habitat-built development his family lives in, a colorful 54-unit oasis of solar-powered, wood-frame homes with lush lawns. "But we've been trying to push the city to help. If it was in a different neighborhood, if it was in Berkeley, they would do something about it."

From the Gents Barbershop to the Jalisco Market, shopkeepers and residents of the surrounding Brookfield Village and Sobrante Park neighborhoods expressed enthusiasm and a little disbelief over the coming dignitaries.

Acknowledging she knows "not a lot, nothing really" about a man who was president before she was born, 30-year-old Lopi Laupati hoped Carter could persuade city officials to pay more attention to this far corner of Oakland, eight miles from City Hall, where many feel accustomed to being ignored and avoided.

"If he comes and sees how it really is, maybe there'll be an improvement," Laupati said. "Right now, it's pretty quiet. Come here on Friday night and see the difference."

She was speaking on a sunny afternoon, just days before a group of robbers invaded the very construction site the Carters are scheduled to visit next week. Eight Habitat workers were held at gunpoint Tuesday, and one narrowly missed being hit by gunfire as they were preparing for the big events next week.

In August, just blocks away, a father and his 1-year-old son were shot and killed when bullets riddled a Brookfield Village home.

"It is tough. We know there's crime, there's dumping," said Janice Jensen, president of Habitat for Humanity of the East Bay and Silicon Valley. "Certainly Habitat cannot solve that by ourselves but we try to partner with the community. ... We want to see it succeed and be healthier."

To be sure, no one blames Habitat for these problems and many believe the Christian home-building group has boosted the area by adding well-built homes and striving homeowners to what were previously weed-strewn and polluted lots.

"People are actually kind of happy about it," said librarian Cynthia Hegedus, who runs the city's Brookfield Branch Library. "There are a lot of people here who are struggling. A lot of houses are underwater."

Duct tape name tags of past volunteers cover a board near the sign-in table at the Habitat for Humanity Brookfield Court development in East Oakland,
Duct tape name tags of past volunteers cover a board near the sign-in table at the Habitat for Humanity Brookfield Court development in East Oakland, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 27, 2013. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

Built for war industry workers in the 1940s, Brookfield Village was beset with poverty and the drug trade long before Habitat began investing more than $31 million here since the 1990s. One in every 17 residents is now living in homes built, repaired or renovated by Habitat volunteers.

The area has also experienced rapid demographic change from a predominantly African-American neighborhood to one where about half the population is Latino, Hegedus said. With the Habitat projects comes an even more diverse group of homeowners, many of them East African, Asian, Middle Eastern and Latin American immigrant families from other parts of Oakland or the East Bay who don't make enough money to buy a market-rate home in the Bay Area but have steady jobs allowing them to pay Habitat's significantly discounted down payment and mortgage.

Habitat has built nearly 100 new homes for low-income families in this part of Oakland, including the largest single Habitat development in the state. The group is also helping repair some original World War II-era ranch houses so that elders and veterans can afford to stay in them.

And the Carters and volunteers will be doing the same in the Dorsa-TOCKNA neighborhood of East San Jose, where organizers said the need is equally great.

"In San Jose there's just hardly any affordable housing. It's just nonexistent," Jensen said.

Saleh, a 23-year-old recent UC Davis graduate, moved with his family to one of the Oakland parcels in 2007. Future homeowner Ejigayehu Tela is thrilled to be moving with her daughter and two young sons next year into a three-bedroom townhome, an upgrade from the cramped apartment where they live now. As part of the Habitat bargain, the family dedicates about 500 hours of "sweat equity" to build the house alongside volunteer teams who arrive several times each week.

"We drove around every nook and cranny in this neighborhood and talked to people and they all seemed very nice, and delighted to be here," said her daughter, 26-year-old Ayoda Weredes. "All they had to say was good things. Some of them have lived here for 20 years."

Their future neighbor, Basudev Dey, was less optimistic but said moving to the new Oakland home from Union City was worth the crime risk. He and his 16-year-old daughter just won't do much walking outside, he said as he took a peek inside Tela's home-in-progress.

"Don't worry; we can make it safer together," Tela told him.

Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid, whose district encompasses the Habitat projects, said he's been trying to commit more crews to clean up the trash that mars stretches of Edes Avenue and respond to other concerns that residents there have.

"Everybody's excited about Habitat. That lot's sat vacant for a long time. I'm 6'2", and weeds would grow as high as me," Reid said. "You have some incredible families who live in those homes. We want to make sure they're able to raise their children in a clean and safe environment."

PRESIDENTIAL VISIT
WHAT: Former. U.S. Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter will join Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley for the 30th annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project
WHEN: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. Opening Ceremony at the Paramount, 2025 Broadway; Monday, 8 a.m. President Carter is joined by country music stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood at Habitat's Brookfield Court development in Oakland; Tuesday, 8 a.m., Carter, Brooks and Yearwood at Habitat's Lake Cunningham Park in San Jose
TICKETS: Ceremony tickets for $35, $75, $100, and $150 are sold at the Paramount box office and Ticketmaster.
INFO: http://www.habitatebsv.org/CWP/special-events#sthash. XInuf9kY. dpuf