Bellingham's Home Fund helping people with repairs, security

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDApril 11, 2014 

When I first visited a woman I'll call Jane Smith last year, she had propped up her ceiling with an old two-by-four board. It was all she could do to keep it from caving in. She knew her roof was bad - it had been leaking for a couple years. The back door to her home no longer opened and the front was paper-thin.

In this unsafe home, together with some recent health issues, Jane's stress was compounding and her hope was fading.

As a weatherization project coordinator at the Opportunity Council, I know how the City of Bellingham's new Mobile Home Repair Program can help provide home improvements and safe housing for Jane and many others in our community. The program is funded out of the City of Bellingham's Home Fund, which voters approved in 2012. Our program makes vital repairs to mobile homes in order to retain occupancy as well as increase safety and overall quality of life. Repair measures may include new roofs, door replacement, water heater replacement, major structural repairs such as flooring, or plumbing repairs.

When Jane first came to the Opportunity Council, she didn't know about this program to improve her home, she was just looking for assistance with her abnormally high heating bills. Knowledgeable intake staff assessed her situation and connected her to our home improvement programs. Jane received a home visit from an energy education specialist who helped her identify ways she could save money on her energy bills.

I made the next home visit and could see quite quickly the home repairs that were vital for her home. As it turns out, we were able to make some significant improvements.

The Mobile Home Repair Program replaced the exterior doors. The front door no longer shook at the slightest touch and the back door opened for the first time in years. We were able to replace the ceiling in the living room. No more need for the two-by-four. Following the repairs, we leveraged weatherization funding, including Puget Sound Energy funds, to fix her roof and add insulation to both the attic space and underneath the home.

The result: lower energy costs, increased comfort, and a healthy and safe home. Plus a great sense of security and relief.

There are many stories like Jane's. Just over a year into this program we have improved 30 homes. Young families, individuals with disabilities, and senior residents have all benefited from this program. With an income eligibility limit of just over $4,000 per month for a family of four, the Mobile Home Repair Program has the potential to touch many Bellingham families who live in sub-standard mobile homes.

By combining Mobile Home Repair Program and weatherization funding, we are able to not only give new life to these homes, but also to the clients.

Today, Jane's home provides a basic standard of safety, durability and efficiency. Now she feels a little more secure and a little less stressed, knowing her home is not going to fall down around her.

And Bellingham voters can know that our city's investment in decent housing is paying real-world dividends - and providing renewed hope.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jake Nuckolls is a project coordinator for the Opportunity Council's Home Improvement Department. For more information online, go to oppco.org.

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