Rebuilding Together Oakland County works toward safe, healthy homes...and parks

When thinly-stretched budget place even minor home repairs out of reach, small problems can eventually become big problems.

Rebuilding Together Oakland County is working to ease some of these challenges for low-income homeowners in need. One of 150 affiliates across the country, Rebuilding Together Oakland County offers home repairs and renovations with the help of corporate sponsors, private donors, community development block grants and a whole lot of volunteers.

“Our goal is to serve seniors, veterans, individuals with disabilities and families with children,” says Halie Black, executive director of the Farmington Hills-based group. "All the projects we work on are different, but all are powerful."

Founded in Washington D.C. in 1988, Rebuilding Together started out with a single-day, late-April missive called “Christmas in April.” Following the same model locally, organization leaders from Huron Valley in Oakland County “started small with a few homeowner projects on the last weekend of April each year,” says board president Gale Frazee. And the faith-based group grew from there.

“In 1992, the organization decided to affiliate with Rebuilding Together, a non-religious organization, which allowed it to work in even more communities in Oakland County,” Frazee says.

Now in its 25th year, Rebuilding Together Oakland County is working to harness the energy of volunteers and teams to provide year-round services. The nonprofit is funded through Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), private foundations, and corporate, individual and church donations. It receives no federal or state funding.

Becuase the group obtains funding through CDBG grants in Southfield and Farmington Hills,  the group receives referrals from these cities. But that doesn’t limit applications from other cities. Rebuilding Together is actively seeking funding and projects throughout Oakland County.

On April 30, 2016, the organization had 37 projects taking place, with 1,000 volunteers from community groups, municipalities, corporations and faith-based organizations. Additional projects take place throughout the year, based on need and volunteer support.

“Some corporations like to volunteer as team-building efforts for organizations, so we pick a date that works for them and manage a project that is one day and done. Some corporations want to work during the week because it’s easier for them to recruit their volunteers,” says Black.

“We work to spread the word about who we are and what we do. We want people to know there is no shame in asking for help. Our volunteers want to help people, and we want to be in the community helping people.”

Raising property values

In September 2016, Rebuilding Together Oakland County worked with 30 volunteers from Farmington Hills-based Coretek Services to complete work on a Madison Heights home owned by a disabled veteran and his wife.

Before the build, a program manager evaluated the home to prioritize work based on healthy home standards through a partnership with the National Safe and Healthy Housing CoalitionBefore any work began, the organization hired a contractor to remove a hazardous tree, replace the HVAC and flooring, and remove a built-in stove that had become a fire risk.

On build day, the team repaired the deck and fence in the backyard, installed railings both inside and out and replaced the kitchen sink.

“The team was passionate about gardening, so they redid the landscaping to improve curb appeal,” says Black. 
Overall, about $10,000 of work was invested into the home. 
“With the labor involved and a cheaper rate for tree removal, this adds to the property value. If the homeowners had to pay, it would have cost them three times as much, at least.”

Optimizing homes for the disabled

Through a $15,000 grant from The Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation and help from a variety of volunteers, Rebuilding Together Oakland County performed a month-long project in Holly for a wheelchair-bound widow who could no longer access portions of her home.

“We tore out the bathroom and moved to a wall to have an ADA-approved roll-in shower and accessible sink so she could have her independence back,” says Black.

Widened bedroom doorways and an added laundry room provided additional accessibility.

“People can’t imagine what it’s like to not be able to access your own bathroom. She just wanted to do her own laundry,” Black says.

Improving public space

When Eaton in Southfield pledged 40 volunteers last May, Rebuilding Together Oakland County chose to focus efforts on Bauervic Woods Park in Southfield. Over the course of two days, Eaton volunteers widened walkways, upgraded playground mulch, painted trash cans and installed trailhead maps in the 80-acre park.

Eaton and Rebuilding Together Oakland County share an eight-year history, during which Eaton has provided substantial unrestricted operating grants that enable the nonprofit to have staff, Black says.

The multi-group partnership benefits all parties, says Rick Lampi, an operations specialist with the City of Southfield.

“This [partnership] stretches the city dollar for improving parks and single-family homes. Bauervic Park was a simple park with hiking trails and a playground. So to come in and bring Eaton with 30 or 40 people for two days in a row is a real bonus,” Lampi says.

Improvements have a motivating effect on the whole neighborhood, Lampi adds.

“If you are taking on some of the more challenged properties on a block and you fix that up, the whole block looks better, and you get some spin on that," he says. "Others are motivated to do more and to improve their neighborhoods,” he says.
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