OAKLAND -- Working swiftly, precisely and always as a pair, former President Jimmy Carter and his wife of 67 years, Rosalynn, devoted several hours Monday to framing the windows of a new home in an East Oakland neighborhood troubled by crime.

The Carters' visit to the Habitat for Humanity construction site came less than a week after robbers invaded the 12-home development, held eight workers of the nonprofit homebuilding group at gunpoint and fired bullets into the air.

"I think there's been a general rising up of everybody who lives in this community against that crime, which was especially despicable," Carter said.

Former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter work together to make a precise cut as they work on installing a windowsill at the Brookfield
Former President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter work together to make a precise cut as they work on installing a windowsill at the Brookfield Court development in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, Oct. 7, 2013. (Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

The 89-year-old former president said he believed a "growing community cohesion" and the example set by Habitat's well-built new homes would ripple across the surrounding Brookfield Village neighborhood, raising its standard of living.

"I don't know much about the community, but that's what I've seen happen all over the world," Carter said.

He added, optimistically, "I would guess that that would be the last time that the news media would hear, certainly for many years, of a robbery in this area. I think there's been such an adverse reaction in the general public here that it's not likely to be repeated."

When he arrived just after 8 a.m. Monday morning, Carter immediately pulled out a knife and began unbundling wood. He and the former first lady appeared unfazed by the bevy of media and heightened security -- city, county and state police and Secret Service. The Georgia Democrat chatted about past visits to Oakland -- once in 1980 during the waning months of his one-term presidency, later for an Oakland A's playoff game.

Nearly 300 volunteers joined the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project on its Oakland jaunt Monday, hammering and sawing finishing touches on homes that are nearly complete.

"They're fantastic," said country music singer Garth Brooks as he worked on a window sill with his wife and fellow country star, Trisha Yearwood. "Carter ain't gonna have it any other way."

The Carters had made a quiet visit to scope out the construction site on Sunday afternoon, shortly after landing in the Bay Area, then headed downtown to the Paramount Theatre for a star-studded music night celebrating the 30th anniversary of their Carter Work Project, which visits new cities and countries each year. Another Habitat fundraiser was set to happen at a Saratoga home on Monday evening, and the Carters travel to East San Jose to help with home repairs on Tuesday.

Watching the Carters deftly handle a power saw Monday was 75-year-old Habitat volunteer Barbara Frick, of Lafayette.

"It's interesting how they work as a team," Frick said. "He's very skilled. He knows how to operate all the major equipment. He's not just a hammer-swinger, though he does that well, too."

Also thrilled to work alongside the Carters were several future homeowners, all of them East Bay families whose incomes are too low to afford a market-rate house in the Bay Area.

Seventeen-year-old Henry Zavala said he "can't really go outside and play basketball" in his current East Oakland neighborhood because of the danger of gun violence. Though it's just a few blocks away, Zavala said he will feel safer at the Habitat development because he already knows many of his future neighbors from spending so much time together.

Families must put about 500 hours of sweat-equity into building the homes they are going to live in.

His mom, a waitress at Denny's, now pays $1,575 monthly for rent. Her mortgage on the Habitat home will be about half that.

"I feel really good because we can come home and say it's actually our house," Zavala said.

Fostering such a sense of dignity and community ownership is exactly what Habitat projects are about, the former president and first lady said.

"No matter what, building houses helps with everything in the community," Rosalynn Carter said.