Environment: NonProfit Sustains Through Home Renovations

Over the past 30 years, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia has renovated neglected homes and assisted people earning low-incomes in specifically selected areas of the city. On June 1 and 2, volunteers, experts and neighbors reconditioned 10 homes on Dewey Street in the Haddington neighborhood looking to showcase their pride in this overlooked area of West Philadelphia.

“This is a huge help and a big relief,” Kaneitha Griffin, a seven-year homeowner said. “They’re installing LED light bulbs, a brand-new toilet, new flooring, cabinets and doing work that insulates the back of the house where it gets pretty drafty and cold in the winter.”

All work done by RTP and its volunteers is free of charge to homeowners, many of whom could not afford these large-scale repairs on their own. Also, significant portions of owners chosen for these home transformations are elderly, single mothers or have a disability.

According to Executive Director Stefanie Seldin, the organization spends around $11,000 dollars on each home in necessary and sometimes vital repairs, which helps homeowners with monthly bills as well as factors that impact their health.

Problems such as asthma, arthritis, depression and physical injuries are some of the impacts that an aging and dilapidated home can have on the people living there. Drexel University’s Urban Health Collaborative found that residents who received this type of assistance in Mantua felt reduced financial stress afterwards as well as an increase in overall mental health.

Sponsors Univest Bank, Lincoln Financial and Philadelphia Insurance Company among others, supply volunteers who do the physical labor of removing, refitting, replacing old air filters, drywalling, painting, replacing flooring, as well as insulating ductwork and piping.

“These insulation and weatherization applications save around 10-20 percent of energy costs,” said Sustainability Team Leader Will Giesey.

According to the Alliance to Save Energy, households waste a significant amount of energy in their homes through air filtration, when an air filter becomes clogged or dirty forced air units use more energy to produce the same amount of heating or cooling. Another problem ASE finds is in lighting, compared to traditional incandescent light bulbs, LED light bulbs last much longer and use at least 25 times less energy.

Volunteers like Anisha Williams, above, learn through experience the types of contracting methods which prevent drafts and fires from traveling through a home quickly. RTP has a list of 25 health and safety checks for each home to ensure the people living there are safe and healthy while also focusing on energy efficiency.

RTP’s approach to “stabilizing and revitalizing communities,” is by doing more than one house at a time, which has become known as a “Block Build.” Dozens of volunteers renovate at least 10 houses during a Block Build. Furthermore, RTP doesn’t move on to the next project afterwards, part of their prolonged plan keeps them in contact with residents for years.

“What we are doing is preserving affordable housing,” Seldin said. “Helping the neighbors that have been here for years, anchoring these neighborhoods and this is a model that should be followed.”

-Text, images and video by Michael Blanche.

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