Earlier this year, Bryan Hutchison from Blue Spruce HFH visited with HFH Riverside in Southern California to learn about their home preservation program. Mobile home repair is a tremendous need in Blue Spruce HFH’s service area and HFH Riverside has valuable experience to share from years of extensive preservation work in mobile home communities. He shared some important lessons-learned with HFHC:
Like many of Habitat’s efforts, they start with a small act that leads to larger impact efforts. A Brush with Kindness and Critical Repair fall within the Neighborhood Revitalization(NR) toolbox to help affiliates expand Habitat’s mission reach in building strength, stability and self-reliance.

Kathy Michalak, now the Executive Director for Riverside HFH, was on the board of directors when the affiliate’s housing preservation program was started. In 2009, HFH Riverside received a call from a concerned neighbor about a mobile home owner being evicted due to repairs that the owner couldn’t complete on their own. HFH Riverside took on the project and made the repairs. The next year, they funded a full-time project manager and completed 40 projects, focusing on seniors, disabled persons, and veterans in mobile home parks. The year after that, they were able to double the number of projects due in part to A Brush With Kindness (ABWK) program and CDBG funding. They also invested in dedicated paint and logistics equipment. They would later add Critical Repair (CR) projects to their repertoire, working on owner-occupied homes.

Below are Kathy’s key issues for affiliates looking at getting started with projects like ABWK and Critical Repair.

•Insurance Requirements: We work with Lockton and always have to add the cities on our liability insurance as additional insured if we are receiving any grant money through them. If we are using volunteers, of course we need the volunteer insurance. Typically we are required to have at least $1,000,000 in liability insurance coverage.

•Funding: We work with outside funders to get grant funding. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Pacific Life, The Community Foundation and other private funders are regular grantors. A lot of private companies really like working with ABWK and home repairs so they also support us with grant funding. The main sources of funding have become the CDBG and HOME funds through at least 3 of our cities. We request 100% of our costs for salaries, supplies and mileage and with a couple of the larger grants, we also write in a request for $1,000 per completed project as a “Developer’s Fee” that covers the administrative costs that are not specifically addressed in the reimbursements. Things like rent, accounting, account fees, etc. In the smaller grant requests ($10k or less) we do not request Developer’s Fees.

•Sweat Equity: There are repayment requirements for any funding that is private or HFHR underwritten and it’s usually a sliding scale depending on their income levels. Remember, most of the people we help are in the VERY low-income range; less than 50% of the AMI. If it’s CDBG or HOME funds, we cannot demand a repayment of the grant funding, but we are about to ask that they attend some training that will educate them on some basics about preventative home maintenance so they don’t end up needing assistance again. So far, all the cities we work with are on board with that requirement. Sweat Equity is sometimes tough, because most of our homeowners are seniors or disabled, sometimes both. We have required family members to be available to help with any volunteer work. And sometimes, we’ve asked that they help with water, refreshments or baking something special for the volunteers if they cannot physically help. We are pretty flexible depending on the homeowner’s physical or financial situation.

Our board has been very supportive of the process and the requirements because most of them have actually participated as volunteers on our ABWK programs so they know the people we are helping out are very limited. They’ve been very supportive of our efforts to preserve affordable housing in addition to creating new affordable housing.

•Staffing: Currently we have 1 full-time ABWK person and 1 full-time administrative support person who are 100% devoted to repairs. Their salaries, benefits, etc are pretty much 100% covered. Jim is not 100% repairs, he also fulfills other project management roles and will soon be assisting our Construction Manager when we get permits to move forward on our 2 large upcoming home builds, but a significant percentage of his salary is covered through the repair grants/contracts. And as always, everyone pitches in when the conditions dictate!

In closing we hope to upgrade Blue Spruce HFH Neighborhood Revitalization program utilizing the information gathered from the research. Like most Habitat programs, the scale will depend on funding options and will likely get started with simple projects and a survey of community aspirations and needs.

For additional information, Kathy Michalak’s ABWK power point presentation is available at this link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5tQso0Bc1XzRGhTaEp1ejZIcjJ5bXQzbWY5X0xSalNHR0pN/view

Information on HFHI’s Neighborhood Revitalization program can be found here: https://hfhi.sharepoint.com/sites/NeighborhoodRevitalization