Ride of a lifetime
Chico native prepares for a cross-country bicycle trek focused on affordable housing
Lizi Urbanowicz has recently been accli mating herself to life on two wheels. The 19-year-old Chico native is preparing herself for a 4,000-mile journey—by bicycle—across the United States next summer. The plan: to help build affordable housing along the way.
From mid-June to early September, Urbanowicz, along with about 30 other young volunteers, will be bicycling from Portland, Maine, to Santa Barbara with Bike and Build, a nonprofit that organizes cross-country cycling trips for youth ages 18 to 26, to support affordable housing. Stopping at roughly 15 work sites across the country, riders temporarily trade in their bikes for a paint brush or hammer, lending a hand in the building process before heading back onto the open road and onto the next site.
It was Urbanowicz’s involvement last year with service program AmeriCorps and working for Habitat for Humanity in San Antonio, Texas, that first piqued her interest in the affordable-housing cause.
“I never really realized the impact [these programs] have on families,” she said. “There are so many families who just can’t afford housing; it’s a big issue.”
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 10.3 million people fall into ELI, the extremely low income bracket, making it especially hard to rent or own homes, and that’s where affordable housing programs come in.
“Affordable housing is defined as not having to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, but a lot of houses cost 50 percent or more of a family’s income. Keeping the cost low to focus on other expenses, like education, is really important,” Urbanowicz said.
With new awareness of the housing issues in America, Urbanowicz was immediately drawn to Bike and Build’s program. “It combines taking a cool trip with a service aspect. I’ve always wanted to do a long bike trip, but not unless there was a compelling reason behind it.”
Recently accepted into the program, Urbanowicz has quite a bit of work ahead of her before June. Besides meeting a 500-mile bicycle training requirement, riders are asked to extensively research affordable housing curriculum and raise at least $4,500 before the trip. And if it’s not all raised by the first day of orientation? “Then you can’t ride, no exceptions,” Urbanowicz said. “They want you to be pretty committed.”
The first thousand of those dollars goes toward a “sweet road bike,” which Urbanowicz is especially looking forward to. The rest is for trip funds such as food and shelter, but the majority of the money goes to the various affordable housing programs that Bike and Build partners with.
“It’s great because it’s a grassroots organization, but it’s also dealing with wealth redistribution. The money I’m raising from the Chico area is going across the country to the organizations we build with and research with. It’s not just Bike and Build getting government grants,” she said. But more than that, riders get to help decide exactly where their money goes. “We get a say in deciding which affordable housing programs we want to award grants to, so we get to be a part of the process,” she added.
Once the trip starts, Urbanowicz can expect to bike about 70 miles a day, on average, starting at 6 or 7 a.m. By night, the team finds various forms of accommodation, from camping to staying with churches or other community organizations, where riders will give presentations using the knowledge they’ve acquired about affordable housing issues. A van will accompany the team, carrying gear, scouting lunch spots and lugging around any temporarily wounded soldiers. While Urbanowicz’s route is taking her toward Santa Barbara, there are over half a dozen other Bike and Build trips, all east to west, starting from different states and all making their way to the Pacific Ocean.
While fundraising and training efforts are a huge part of the preparation, Urbanowicz notes that pre-existing construction skills aren’t as crucial for the work sites. “On the job, you have people of every skill level, and there are always a few team leaders who can do the more difficult tasks. A lot of the stuff volunteers do doesn’t take much training, maybe 15 minutes of instruction, but it’s fairly easy to catch on.”
With the trip starting in June, Urbanowicz has a few more months to get everything prepared for the adventure. So far, she’s raised about one-fourth of her fundraising goal.
“I’ve never done something like this before. I’ll probably send some letters and make a video. It’ll definitely stretch my abilities.” As far as training goes, she’s a little more confident. “I’m not too intimidated by the training … yet.” The UCLA student, who’s trained for half marathons before, is no stranger to the bicycle either. “Growing up, I never had a car; I went everywhere by bike, and I love biking. I think after this trip and all my experience, I’ll be even more likely to do so.”