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Green Block Build Offers Homeowners a One-Stop Shop to a Better Quality of Life and a Sustainable Future

October 3, 2012

Bettye Ferguson, leader of the Holly Street Garden Association that helped organize residents and volunteers for the event.

Ever since hurricane Irene swept through Philadelphia, Betty Ferguson has had problems with her roof. It became so bad that six raccoons made her attic their new home. Investing in an expensive extermination service didn’t help, and her disability prevented her from attempting to evict the critters herself. It became hard to breathe, she said.

She wasn’t alone. Her neighbors on North Holly Street in West Philadelphia also faced new damages to their houses. The expensive repairs were daunting. “We fell short,” Ferguson explained. “A lot of us are retired, low-income, or on fixed-incomes.”

For many, the damage wasn’t severe enough to qualify for support from FEMA, but as time went on, residents saw the damages get worse and their quality of life diminish. Delores Fuggs, who had a tree fall on the back of her house, said “FEMA did help, but they could not do it all.”

Ferguson was fortunate enough to meet staff from Rebuilding Together and The Partnership CDC at a community meeting. The Green Block Build program, it turned out, was a perfect match for Ferguson’s block. The Green Block Build program is a collaborative effort of partners headed by SCI-West and funded by LISC. The program brings emergency home repair, energy efficiency upgrades, and a whole suite of services and information to help homeowners stay in their homes and revitalize their blocks.

As part of the program, volunteers worked on 14 homes along 800 North Holly Street over the past month. The process culminated in a day-long block build, party, and neighborhood resource fair this past Saturday, September 29th.

Without this program, I would have been living like a homeless person in my own home.

Ferguson received a new handicapped-accessible bathroom, including a new walk-in shower and grab bars. Plus, her new cool roof means her home is drier, the raccoon family is gone for good, and her utility bills will drop during hot summer months. She says her quality of life has already been improved. But more importantly, she is happy the other residents on her block are also receiving help at the same time. “A lot of times, doing things only partway, you end up having to go back and do it again,” Ferguson said. “This way, everything is done at the same time.”

Across the street from Ferguson’s home, the tree that took out the back of Fuggs’ house had made her home almost unlivable. “The whole back of my house was open,” she said. “Without this program, I would have been living like a homeless person in my own home.”

Replacing this kitchen floor will allow the homeowner to stay in their home. This is good for Holly Street and for West Philadelphia, too.

The Green Block Build program aims to help homeowners with the repairs they urgently need, as well as connect them with support to help them plan for a more sustainable future. “The Green Block Build program looks to bring sustainable change from house to house, block to block,” said Jamie Gauthier, Program Officer for LISC. “With a little support from our partners and volunteers, West Philadelphia residents are really driving the changes on their blocks.”

West Philadelphia residents are really driving the changes on their blocks.

Many homes on North Holly Street have been part of these families’ lives for over 60 years, with four and five generations living in some households. The community also has a proud legacy of volunteerism, of supporting each other and the neighborhood. “This means a lot for the old homeowners who invested in this area,” Ferguson explained. “I’m proud to live here. It’s worth saving.”

Energy efficiency upgrades, such as wrapping hot water heater tanks with insulation, will help lower utility bills for residents.

The homes themselves are over 100 years old. With older heating technology and building methods, the repairs and upgrades are crucial to make it affordable for residents to stay put. Ferguson said, “We won’t go into debt paying for it like we normally would have to.”

Residents along North Holly Street were connected to financial coaching and counseling services, information about maintaining a healthy home, and ways to save energy and drive down utility bills. Fuggs, who was raised on the block, was glad to hear about Tangled Title assistance, one of the services offered by the Green Block Build collaborative to help homeowners keep their homes. A title becomes “tangled” when a homeowner inherits his or her home from family members, but the paperwork necessary to convey new ownership is somehow incomplete. “If you don’t know where to get the resource from, you’re at a loss,” Fuggs said. “So it’s good to have the resources out here, and I picked up a couple of resources that I know I can benefit from.”

The Green Block Build brought resources to residents on North Holly Street and neighboring blocks.

Additionally, with the resource fair, any nearby resident can come learn about resources and services available to them. Ferguson said, “It’s like a one-stop shop.”

In 2012, the Green Block Build Collaborative hosted two block builds featuring intensive home repairs, as well as two block parties offering neighborhood resources and services. SCI-West and its program partners hope to attract funding and support to expand and replicate the program further, helping even more blocks and homeowners across West Philadelphia.

> Read more about SCI-West at www.SCIPhilly.org

>Read more about LISC at www.lisc.org

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Article and photos by David Ferris.

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