Rust Belt cities are full of abandoned houses. Rahwa Ghirmatzion transforms old buildings into green, healthy homes.

Rust Belt cities are full of abandoned houses.

Rahwa Ghirmatzion transforms old buildings into green, healthy homes.

When 8-year-old Rahwa Ghirmatzion moved to a small, rural town in western New York, she wondered where all the people of color were. As a refugee who fled Sudan and then war-torn Eritrea, she felt isolated in her new country. She eventually landed in Buffalo, where she feels at home among the city’s estimated 22,000 foreign-born residents — but she also discovered a city of thousands of old, vacant houses.

[pullquote share=”true” tweet=”“We had homes like swiss cheese, asthma, lead pipes.” -@RahwaG” hashtag=”Grist50″]“We had homes like swiss cheese, asthma rates, and lead pipes. We wanted quality, affordable housing.” [/pullquote]

Now, at PUSH Buffalo (People United for Sustainable Housing), Ghirmatzion works to build affordable, green housing in Buffalo’s West Side, a 25-block neighborhood where many of the cities’ immigrants and refugees live. Since 2005, PUSH has rehabilitated 18 homes and placed over 20 people in full-time green construction jobs.

Ghirmatzion believes the best economic and environmental solutions come from members of the community, so she holds monthly meetings with local residents. The PUSH gatherings often involve games and puzzles, which help people break down language barriers and give everyone a voice. “It’s about working with what you have and building off of that,” Ghirmatzion says. “They tell us what to do.”

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The world feels pretty broken right now. That’s why we need Fixers — bold problem solvers working toward a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck. For our annual list of emerging green leaders, Grist brings you 50 innovators with fresh, forward-thinking solutions to some of humanity's biggest challenges. Credits

Grist 50 Credits

Photo of Rahwa Ghirmatzion: Stephen Yang

  • Editors
    Andrew Simon, Amelia Urry
    Mignon Khargie, Amelia Bates
    Nathan Letsinger
    Project Manager
    Matt Grisafi
    Social Media
    Cody Permenter
    Video Producer
    Daniel Penner
    Executive Editor
    Scott Dodd
  • Writers
    Clayton Aldern Ted Alvarez Eve Andrews Vishakha Darbha Sabrina Imbler Nathanael Johnson Samantha Larson Katie Mast Amy McDermott Emma Foehringer Merchant Caroline Saunders Darby Minow Smith Katharine Wroth Kate Yoder

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