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April 29, 2024 Staff News

“She’s A Builder”: Emily Lucas, Director of Construction Operations, moves on after 18 years at Habitat Philadelphia

Lucas pioneered Habitat Philly’s critical home repairs program, keeping more than 900 homeowners safe, warm and dry over the years.

Emily Lucas has two hands and a heart, just like the rest of us. What she has done with them has touched the lives of hundreds of Philadelphia homeowners. 

“She’s a builder,” said Corinne O’Connell, CEO of Habitat Philadelphia. “Emily builds homes, she builds community, she builds hope. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to learn and grow alongside her and to witness Emily in action.  She’s a force for good.” 

 

Emily and Habitat colleagues

Emily Lucas, Director of Construction Operations, is honored with a golden hammer for 18 years of service to Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia.

After 18 years, Emily bids a fond farewell to her Habitat Philly family, leaving a legacy of impact and a home repair program that has grown from a good idea to a core strategy. 

Emily joined Habitat Philadelphia in 2006 as a construction assistant through the AmeriCorps program. She had recently graduated from Eastern University, where her academic interest in social structures and policies blended nicely with her summer service projects in home repair construction. 

“I love construction,” Emily says. “To throw my body into something physical, step back at the end of the day and see my work. There was no shortage of that at AmeriCorps, and learning to build houses was incredible appealing to me.” 

Back then, Habitat Philadelphia was small and scrappy, with fewer than 15 full-time employees. Four independent Philadelphia affiliates had merged a few years prior, and that shift was still in the air. It was an environment ripe for innovation. 

“During my second year, I really started to advocate for home repair,” Emily recalls. “I would be out at a new home construction or rehab site, and neighbors would stop by and ask, ‘Can you fix my roof?’ But that wasn’t in our model at the time.” 

Leadership at the time acknowledged the need and appreciated Emily’s enthusiasm, which led to a full-time position as a warranty carpenter. Over the next few years, she worked her way up to site supervisor, but never lost sight of the need for repairs. 

In 2010, Habitat for Humanity International approached with a weatherization project funded by Exelon. With ten projects offered to current Habitat homeowners, a new work model was born. 

Within a year, Habitat Philadelphia had fully committed to developing a home repair program. A four-year grant from the Oak Foundation provided the initial investment, and a pilot project in partnership with Project Home proved the concept.  

 
 
 
 
 

“It was a classic case of laying the tracks ahead of the train,” joked Emily. “We wore all the hats. Reaching out to homeowners, designing the contracts, managing volunteers and working in the field. Vicki helped make it all go.” 

As the system evolved, one of the main challenges was kitting together a patchwork of funding to deliver the repairs homeowners needed. One grant might be limited to painting facades, while another might be designated for alleviating health hazards. But with some creativity from the Build team and support from a growing Development team, Habitat Philly has been able to maximize the flexibility of its funding to provide comprehensive services that meet the priorities of the community. 

“Habitat’s unique strength is that we are a general contractor,” explains Emily. “We’re able to flex and respond to a wide range of repair needs.” 

Solving the funding puzzle is only the first step of the process. Emily’s team excels in forging trust with homeowners. 

“They’re the best,” she chuckles. “Construction is not easy. Project management is not easy. And they’re out there working in people’s lives. It’s literally and figuratively messy. So in addition to building physical construction, the team is building a connection with the homeowner. I’m really proud of them.” 

Emily leaves the repair program in excellent shape. In 2023, the team hit a milestone of 100 repairs completed in a single year. A multi-year grant from the William Penn Foundation is set to double that scale over three years. With Philadelphia’s aging housing stock, home repair continues to be an integral pillar in the affordable housing solution. 

And the impact? 

“The data bears it out,” says Emily, “home repairs improve neighborhood health and safety.” 

“I’ve seen people come out of the haze of depression,” Emily shares, “because they no longer have the constant weight of only being able to occupy one room of their home, or they can look at their neighbors again because they’re no longer ashamed of the condition of their house.” 

A safe and comfortable home can be a lifeline for an entire family. A repaired home becomes the hub for holiday dinners, provides a needed extra bed, or hosts grandkids after school. The impact reverberates from the individual out to the community. 

“I’ll never take having a warm, dry house for granted,” Emily concludes. “When it’s pouring out, I think about the families I know are out there whose homes are not doing their job of keeping the weather out. Habitat can help.” 

Emily has built a career with Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. From learning construction basics to overseeing a team of 25 builders, project managers, and operations personnel, she’s blazed a path in a field where women are in the minority. In 2015, Emily was named a Rising Star by the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC) and in 2019 she earned a Master of Science in City & Regional Planning from Temple University. 

She will continue to foster collaboration and innovation to serve homeowners in our city, as she embraces a new challenge at the Philadelphia Energy Authority. 

“Our home repair program would look very different without Emily’s vision, hard work, and leadership,” said O’Connell. “I’m thrilled that she will continue to foster collaboration and maximize resources for more Philadelphia homeowners.” 

From all of us at Habitat Philadelphia – thank you, Emily. Go build.