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During the height of the pre-Great Recession construction boom, Nancy Welsh noticed that small, functionally obsolete homes in her community were being torn down and taken to the dump. Buyers wanted newer, bigger homes near downtown Raleigh, N.C.
She also noticed something else: Middle-class workers — specifically, teachers, police officers and firefighters — could no longer afford to live in those areas once the newer, bigger homes were built.
“All these houses were going to the dump and being replaced by something that wasn’t affordable,” she said. “I figured I could have them donated to a nonprofit and started figuring out the model of creating the nonprofit.” (Bing: Learn more about nonprofit home rehabilitation)
Welsh took some money she had inherited and established Builders of Hope to do something about both issues: the waste from torn-down homes and the lack of affordable housing. But she didn’t want to just fix up old homes and make them livable. Builders of Hope uses a patent-pending “extreme green” rehabilitation process.
Green and healthy
The extreme part of Builders of Hope’s process means starting with a fresh palette, at least on the inside.
“We take every single house all the way down to the studs,” Welsh said. “A lot of mistakes people make are because they are trying to save plumbing or wiring or doing patchwork to fix this or that. Then they get inside and find really serious issues and didn’t budget for it. Every house we do, we budget to replace all of that. We want the house to be good for another 50 years.”
The organization takes care to preserve the historic character of a home’s exterior, but each one gets new insulation, caulking and sheeting to create a supertight envelope. Everything that goes into the new version of the home is energy-efficient and healthful: Energy Star appliances, paints with low levels of volatile organic compounds, low-emissivity windows — and no carpet.
“People don’t realize it, but the carpet holds all these allergens,” Welsh said. There are things that live in your walls that you don’t know about. The Formica in cabinetry — there are lots of things going on in your house that contribute to unhealthy air quality.
“There is no smoking by the workers, and the air ducts are taped and covered during construction,” she said. “People who have asthma who have moved to our homes have not had a single visit to the doctor since they’ve moved into our homes.”
The healthful-home aspect is unique, and Builders of Hope does another thing that not a lot of organizations do: It moves houses. Welsh’s organization takes homes that would otherwise be torn down — because they are in the path of a planned freeway, for instance — and moves them to new communities, then rehabilitates them there. About a third of Builders of Hope’s projects involve a house move.
“As a country, we’re at the age where we’ve got a lot of housing out there — 33 million that were built before 1960,” Welsh said. “We need to figure out what to do with those other than tearing them down and filling up landfills. A third of landfill space is filled with construction debris.”
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Help for homeowners
For Pocatello Neighborhood Housing Services, a housing nonprofit in Idaho, the primary focus is on helping existing homeowners rehabilitate their homes through a home-improvement loan program. But it doesn’t just hand out the money.
“What makes it a little bit different is that when a customer or a homeowner gets one of our loans, unlike a bank that turns you loose, we really walk the homeowner through the process from start to finish,” said Mark Dahlquist, executive director of the nonprofit organization.
The organizations’ rehabilitation specialist helps determine what the issues are, writes up a work scope and goes to the loan committee for approval. Then the PNHS lines up the contractors.
“Lots of these people are elderly or don’t know a lot about home improvement,” Dahlquist said. “They’re really getting peace of mind that someone’s there to walk them through the process.”
The loans are tailored to the borrower’s income, so someone who only makes 60% of the median income would pay a lower interest rate than someone who makes 80%, for example. Those who have extremely low incomes can qualify for a deferral program; a portion of the loan doesn’t have to be paid back until the home is sold or refinanced.
Dahlquist said the company has given about 350 such loans in its 18-year history. “We feel that in a community our size that we’ve really made a huge impact,” he said. “We’re not only helping homeowners preserve their homes, but we’re rehabilitating the look and feel of our neighborhoods.”
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Last year, the PNHS received a half-million-dollar grant from the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. “We were quite thrilled with that because the U.S. Treasury liked so much what we were doing in Pocatello,” Dahlquist said.
One block at a time
Columbus, Ohio-based Homeport works toward its mission of creating stable and affordable communities by covering a lot of ground: It has programs geared toward rental housing and homeownership, and it offers a wide range of educational workshops and classes.