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August 2, 2019 - Guest: Jessica Wishan

Topics: Plastic Bricks for Schools; Aging in Place and Granny Flats; App Magic -Nesterly 

Show Details

On this episode of Solutions News, we interview Jessica Wishan, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity, Southern Santa Barbara.  In honor of Habitat’s mission to create safe, secure housing for people around the world, we take another stab at solutions addressing homes and habitat.  We report on a project that turns plastic trash into bricks that build schools and homes.  We tell you about programs and simple fixes that help people age in place with grace.  And after our interview with Ms. Wishan, and our “didyaknows”, we discuss a unique matchmaking service bringing different generations together, solving different problems for young and old.  

Story #1: Africans Turn Plastic Trash Into Treasure

Abidjan, the main economic hub in Cote d’Ivoire, is the setting for a solution that will have us questioning our current building materials. In partner with UNICEF, a group of local women have started creating schools using bricks made entirely of plastic waste. Not only is this an economic and environmental opportunity, but it is also a solution to the educational crisis in the area. Working with Conceptos Plásticos, they will collect plastic waste and turn it into brick that lasts over 500 years. The company is constructing a brick making factory in Abidjan, and the women will be paid to gather plastic material for the bricks.


In Abidjan alone, more than 280 tons of plastic are produced every single day, and only 5 percent of that is recycled. The remainder is sent to landfills located in lower-income areas, feeding the loop of poverty and income disparity. By recycling the plastic that is constantly cycling into the dumps, these women are literally turning trash into treasure that is able to withstand both time and extreme weather, all while creating thousands of classrooms along the Ivory Coast.  

Story #2: Granny Flat Living

Aging in place is a goal for many as they get frail, and often preferable to moving into an assisted living facility.  Many homes are not ideal for aging bodies, or those with mobility challenges. Even small changes can help optimize living spaces for older generations. Another trend includes families building granny flats: extra, small housing units behind existing homes to be rented out for extra money, and maybe a place to move an aging parent into when the time comes. Multi-generational households are becoming more common due to the recent recession, so granny flats blend the generations while still allowing for individual privacy. 

It can also be practical to make changes to already existing homes to better accommodate, like adding an elevator or shifting the layout of rooms. For details on easy renovations to already existing homes and for tips on how to live with “adult children” in granny flats, take a listen to the show.

Story #3: Matching Different Generations

Our world has become significantly digitized over the years, from online dating to ordering taxis from the ease of our mobile devices. Now, Nesterly is giving us a way to shop for affordable and sensical housing through their app. In a time where many people cannot find affordable housing in popular areas, there are many people of older generations that could use a bit of extra income and some help around the house. Bringing the two together, millennials and baby boomers, under one roof creates a beautifully symbiotic relationship. 

The intergenerational matchmaking system addresses concerns of safety and reliability and has proven successful in the Boston area. Nesterly provides multi-generational service in a time when housing is limited and people are always looking for innovative opportunities.

A unique project in Côte d’Ivoire, uses recycled plastic as building blocks for schools.
A unique project in Côte d’Ivoire, uses recycled plastic as building blocks for schools.

Jessica Wishan

Jessica Wishan is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Southern Santa Barbara County and has spent more than a decade tackling housing issues for low-income, vulnerable and homeless populations in communities across Southern California, ranging from San Diego to Santa Barbara. Her work in this field has ranged from permanent supportive housing development, developing integrated social service centers, community advocacy and fundraising campaigns, homeless shelter operations, building integrated health care partnerships, and more. Additionally, she has worked on employment and social enterprise programs, veteran issues, as well as community preparedness initiatives and disaster relief operations. 

Prior to joining Habitat Santa Barbara, she served as the Regional Disaster Officer and then interim Chief Executive Officer for the Central California Region of the American Red Cross. She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a BA in Global Studies.

Jessica Wishan, Our Guest on August 2, 2019
Jessica Wishan, Our Guest on August 2, 2019