Bike N’ Build

Wash. U. Students bike cross-country for affordable housing

| Scene Reporter

In the summer before senior year, most undergraduates are vying for an internship or for that research opportunity that will make post-graduation easier to handle. But chemical engineers Scott Burger and Sebastian Estenssoro decided they would go on one last adventure to make life before graduation all the more epic. This summer, the roommates will set off for a cross-country adventure, complete with a fundraising twist that will help extend affordable housing to wider audiences.

Burger and Estenssoro are participating in an 80-day trip across the United States with Bike and Build, a charity that raises money for organizations that improve affordable housing options across the U.S.

Starting on May 24 and ending on August 12, the juniors will bike from South Carolina to California, resting in churches, synagogues, schools and YMCA complexes along the way.

During specific “Build Days,” the riders will take time to help construct affordable housing. Bike and Build plans eight different trips each summer, with around 30 bikers per group, snaking along various routes throughout the U.S.

All riders must raise $4,000 in order to participate, as well as acquire the appropriate gear. Mostly by rallying relatives and family and writing letters, Estenssoro has raised $3,800 and Burger $3,000. Estenssoro gathered $400 by spending a day outside Schnuck’s with a can, asking for donations. Unfortunately, the store hasn’t allowed the juniors to gather money since then.

Organizations vie for some of the money gathered by the students, and Habitat for Humanity chapters are consistently listed as recipients, though Bike and Build is not officially affiliated with them. The allocation of some of the money, however, is left in the riders’ hands.

“I get to choose where a certain amount of my money goes,” said Burger. “I’m from Austin, Texas, so I’ll probably donate to the Austin, Texas chapter of Habitat for Humanity.”

Since its inception seven years ago, Bike and Build has raised more than $1.6 million for affordable housing and has heightened awareness about the need for affordable options across the U.S. According to 2008 data released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is an extreme shortage of affordable housing to Extremely Low Income (ELI) renter households in the U.S., with only 6.1 million units available to a total of 9.4 million ELI renters.

“Finding affordable housing, it’s pretty bad, especially now with the economy,” said Burger, who recently contributed to a building project in St. Louis.

In addition to helping fight this problem, Bike and Build will give the engineers a chance to lay off the academics and, according to Estenssoro, have a “life-changing experience,” as opposed to a traditional summer internship.

“I hear it’s the greatest summer in your life,” said Estenssoro. “We’re really looking forward to it.”

If you would like to learn more about Bike and Build or donate to its cause, visit http://www.bikeandbuild.org/cms/index.php.