In May 2019, MacKenzie Scott, a Seattle-based novelist and the third-wealthiest woman in the United States, became a signatory of the Giving Pledge, a non-legally binding philanthropic campaign established nearly a decade prior by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. At the time, Scott, recently divorced from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, pledged to give away most of her vast fortune to charity over her lifetime and in her will. Since then, she has made more than good, and just this week the recipient of her single largest known donation to date went public: the Georgia-based global nonprofit housing organization Habitat for Humanity International and 84 of its local affiliates in the United States have received $436 million from Scott.
In a statement released Tuesday, Jonathan Reckford, CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, said that the organization is “well-positioned to meaningfully advocate for the systemic and societal changes needed to improve equitable access to affordable housing” thanks to Scott’s act of largesse.
Habitat for Humanity International will receive $25 million in unrestricted funds while the remaining $411 million will be distributed to the 84 different affiliates. In a news release, the 46-year-old organization, long championed by former President Jimmy Carter and famously relying on volunteer labor for its projects, said that it will use Scott’s “transformational donation” to “address the global housing crisis at scale and advocate for systemic change needed to increase equitable access to affordable housing.” As noted by the Associated Press, the funds will be largely used to provide direct support to home-building projects in the communities that local Habitat affiliates serve; the parent organization will use its donation in large part to bolster its advocacy efforts, with a focus on breaking down long-standing barriers between homeownership and Black Americans.
“This gift gives us the opportunity to increase and improve equity in our work, policies, practices and programs throughout our organization, our affiliated network, but especially in the communities with which we partner,” elaborated Natosha Reid Rice, Habitat’s chief global diversity, equity and inclusion officer, in the organization’s announcement. “We look forward to bringing diverse groups of people together to focus on the ways we can address systemic racism and injustices in the housing sector that continue to limit access and harm people of color.”
As further detailed by Habitat, the $25 million donation to Habitat for Humanity International will enable the organization to “expand advocacy for policy proposals and legislation that enable millions of people access to affordable housing through its Cost of Home campaign; increase Black homeownership in the U.S. by targeting current systemic barriers through an initiative that will launch this summer, and leverage innovative capital investments that service communities of color.”
The gift will “broadly support Habitat affiliates across the U.S. through grants that will help them innovate, engage new volunteers and advance Black homeownership, all of which will enable them to serve more families across the country,” Habitat elaborated in its press release. Among the 84 Habitat affiliates receiving gifts from Scott are Las Vegas, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Omaha, and Greater Newark.
A Christian organization, Habitat operates in all 50 states and in more than 70 countries. As previously reported by AN, some local Habitat affiliates have embraced 3D-printed construction methods due to the ballooning cost of lumber during the COVID-19 pandemic and the inherent speed and efficiency of constructing homes using advanced building materials and techniques versus traditional stick-built construction. Last June, Habitat’s Central Arizona chapter kicked off work on the organization’s first-ever 3D-printed U.S. home in Tempe.
Scott, who is worth an estimated $48 billion, has donated more than $12 billion to charitable organizations—with a discernible focus on housing, the arts, cultural preservation, and social and economic justice-related efforts—in the two years since her divorce from Bezos. As part of the divorce settlement, Scott, who is now married to Dan Jewett, a high school science teacher in Seattle, received 4 percent of Amazon shares.
“Our team’s focus over these last nine months has included some new areas, but as always our aim has been to support the needs of underrepresented people from groups of all kinds,” said Scott in a March 23 blog post sharing the list of 456 organizations she has donated to since June 2021. “The cause of equity has no sides.”