One in four North Carolinians lives in unaffordable or substandard housing. When a family is forced to move out of an unsafe home, it can reduce tax revenues, bring down property values and increase crime in a neighborhood. One way that community economic development organizations are combatting this instability is through emergency home repair programs.
Through its Innovation Fund grant program, the Initiative invests in Greensboro-based Community Housing Solutions (CHS; formerly Housing Greensboro) to integrate its successful home repair programs into new, focused neighborhood initiatives. These include a one-day Paint the Town event focused on preserving assets in a specific low-income neighborhood and a new green job apprenticeship program focused on improving energy efficiency, eliminating health risks and allowing seniors to remain safely in their homes.
“The real leverage effect of it all starts with the fact that 75 percent of the people we serve are elderly or disabled,” said Gene Brown, president and executive director of CHS. “If they couldn't stay in their homes they would go in a Medicaid nursing home. The cost, at minimum, is $30,000-$35,000 per year. That's taxpayer money. Our average repair cost is $7,500. So for a [one-time] $7,500 investment, we're allowing people to stay in their homes and that's saving $30,000-$35,000 per year.”
The third annual Paint the Town took place Sept. 28 with more than 100 volunteers giving up their Saturday to paint, repair and landscape seven homes in the Ole Asheboro neighborhood for low-income homeowners who can’t physically or financially afford to do the repairs themselves. Each house is sponsored by a business or faith organization that provides funding and volunteers to complete these one-day home makeovers.
The idea behind Paint the Town is to do cosmetic repairs, which CHS does not normally do, in an effort to spread inspiration for home improvement throughout the neighborhood. Brown compares it to the story of Benjamin Franklin inventing the streetlamp.
“Rather than going to the City of Philadelphia and saying, ‘Let's raise taxes and make everyone get streetlamps,’ he decided to put a streetlamp in his yard and he lit the candle every night. And people around the community saw this light and said, ‘Oh that's really neat, I want one for my house…’ so it kind of grew,” said Brown. “We focus on one neighborhood - our hope is that if we paint these homes, it's going to motivate other homeowners who might have the financial means or the physical means to do similar types of projects around their home. And many times when we do these things we find, suddenly, other homeowners are out later [that day] working on their house or it inspires them as well.
“We can't repair every home in the Ole Asheboro neighborhood, but we hope we're a light that shines out from that.”
CHS has been doing home repairs for eight years and has helped keep more than 320 individuals and families in their homes. More than $3.7 million has been invested locally by the organization to preserve affordable housing, utilizing more than 40,000 volunteer hours to complete the work led by their skilled construction staff.
CHS provides home repairs to low-income homeowners, focusing on repair issues that make a home warmer, dryer and safer. Repairs may include fixing roofs or plumbing, making accessibility modifications, correcting electrical hazards, and addressing code violations.
CHS utilizes qualified staff, approved sub-contractors and volunteers from the community to provide labor to accomplish the repairs. Volunteers are trained by the CHS construction staff, often on the job, and all work is supervised and inspected.
“Since we’re doing repairs, rather than new construction, we find that a lot of our volunteers are homeowners who want to learn how to do these things in their own homes,” said Brown.
The Initiative invests in many organizations that provide emergency or energy saving home repairs, or access to low- or no-cost home repair finance programs, including:
- Cape Fear Regional Community Development Corp., Wilmington - Cape Fear Regional CDC administers several state, federal and private lender home repair finance programs. These programs provide low-income homeowners with no-cost loans to make home repairs, ranging from imminent threats to life or safety to weatherization and energy savings improvements.
- Davidson Housing Coalition, Davidson - DHC's award-winning HAMMERS (Hands Around Mecklenburg-Mooresville Making Emergency Repairs Safely) program reduces the immediate threats to life, health and safety in homes owned and occupied by lower wealth residents of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and Mooresville. HAMMERS launched its first project in April 2005 and has completed repairs on more than 112 homes across the Lake Norman region since that time. The program is governed by a steering committee of DHC board members and community volunteers.
- Green Opportunities, Asheville - GO's Weatherization Assistance Training Team (WATT) provides energy efficiency renovations through a paid apprenticeship program that prepares GO Training Team graduates for clean energy careers. The program provides free energy audits and weatherization services to qualified low-income homeowners while providing on-the-job training for previously unemployed young adults.
- Housing Assistance Corp., Hendersonville - HAC's Home Repair Program, funded by the United Way of Henderson County and private donations, eliminates health and safety hazards in the homes of people who have no other source or means. Using volunteer and contract labor, HAC is able to help many people remain in their homes rather than having to relocate or face eviction. Living-assisted ramps are built by a volunteer ramp team and seriously deteriorating structures (involving major repairs) may qualify for loans through USDA-Rural Development.
- Lexington Housing Community Development Corp., Lexington - Lexington Housing CDC assists elderly or disabled homeowners with critical home repairs to prevent them from being displaced from their homes. Rehabilitation services increase home values and facilitate the removal of blighted areas. Through its Urgent Repair Fund, Lexington Housing CDC has completed approximately 460 home repairs since 2001.
- Monroe-Union County Community Development Corp., Monroe - Monroe-Union County CDC makes major repairs to owner-occupied single family dwellings. Repairs include but are not limited to replacing windows, installing new heating and air conditioning units, replacing roofs, and installing vinyl siding to wood frame dwellings. Funding for the home repairs is provided by the N.C. Department of Commerce Division of Community Assistance and the N.C. Housing Finance Agency. These funds are made available to families in the form of deferred loans that are sometimes forgiven over a period of time, depending on the level of assistance. Preference is given to elderly and disabled homeowners.
- Mountain Housing Opportunities, Asheville - MHO's Emergency Home Repair program eliminates immediate threats to life, health and safety in the homes of low-income homeowners with special needs -- elderly, disabled, single parent and families with three or more dependent children. MHO also holds an annual Ramp Festival during which teams of volunteers construct home-access ramps for people with disabilities. The Family-to-Family Furnace Fund utilizes donations to purchase emergency furnace repairs or replacements to help families get through the winter.
- Outer Banks Community Development Corp., Nags Head - Outer Banks CDC serves as an access point to connect qualified homeowners with several funding sources that can assist them in improving their properties in the areas of energy efficiency or handicap access.
The N.C. Community Development Initiative leads North Carolina’s collaborative community economic development effort, driving innovation, investment and action to create prosperous, sustainable communities. For more information, visit www.ncinitiative.org.