A day-long project to repair and weatherproof eight homes on one block of North Philly’s Eastern North neighborhood might seem simple, but the benefits reach deep and wide.
Rebuilding Together Philadelphia
(RTP), the organizer of October 16's Block Build, is one of 150 local independent affiliates of a national program. According to Executive Director Stefanie Seldin, RTP staffers and volunteers -- who have helped to rehabilitate 1,369 homes since the group's 1988 creation by Wharton grad students -- are based out of an office in Frankford but work all over the city.
RTP usually does a few Block Builds per year, often in West Philly.
"We rely on community-based groups to say, ‘This is the block that really could use some TLC,'" says Seldin. "They go and recruit the homeowners for us, too."
The latest build relied on a partnership with Asociación Puertorriqueños en Marcha
, a local community development corporation.
About 100 volunteers pitched in for the October 16 event, including a mix of professional trade and corporate volunteers, and students from nearby schools with vocational programs such as A. Philip Randolph Career & Technical High School
and Thomas Alva Edison High School and John C. Fariera Skills Center
. Workers also included students from Project WOW
, an organization that offers construction training to young adults without high school diplomas.
The homeowners were mostly elderly, low-income, longtime residents feeling the squeeze of property values that have doubled since 2010. Repairs included drywall and plaster repair, the installation of new vinyl flooring and front door locksets, cleaning, HVAC maintenance, caulking, painting and window replacement to better insulate homes and reduce energy costs.
Seldin appreciates the chance to lower utility bills for Block Build homeowners, many of whom "have so much counting on their very limited income. Our homeowners are often forced to choose between repairing their homes, medical treatment or food."
According to RTP, older adults make up almost 18 percent of the city’s population -- the largest percentage of older adults in America’s 10 largest cities -- and one in five of these elderly Philadelphians live in poverty. Combine that with the fact that 90 percent of Philly’s homes were built before 1980, and the need for work like this is clear.
In addition to the cosmetic and structural upgrades, RTP works with a dedicated occupational therapist who evaluates the' homes and recommends improvements for health and safety: things like grab bars, proper lighting, level flooring and extensions for light-bulb switches (so homeowners don’t have to climb stools).
But it’s not just about the safety and comfort of individuals. As housing values have risen in the last few years, the percentage of homeowners in Philly has dropped from over 59 percent in 2000 to 51 percent.
RTP's work, especially in the 19122 zip code of North Philly where developers are circling on the outskirts of Temple University, "is helping to stop that decline in homeownership," adds Seldin. "[We help] longterm lower-income homeowners stay in a neighborhood where more and more of those homeowners are forced out."
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Stefanie Seldin, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia