OAKLAND -- When 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 will bring a jolt of long-sought attention to their daily problems with crime and blight.
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.
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, said librarian Cynthia Hegedus, who runs the city's Brookfield Branch Library. 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 senior citizens and veterans can afford to stay in them.
And the Carters and volunteers will be doing the same in a neighborhood near Lake Cunningham in 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," said Janice Jensen, president of Habitat for Humanity of the East Bay and Silicon Valley.
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 the Oakland neighborhood, 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 Jensen. "Certainly Habitat cannot solve that by ourselves but we try to partner with the community. ... We want to see it succeed and be healthier."
WHAT: Former U.S. President 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.