CHICAGO–Sometimes purchasing the home is the easy part, but maintaining it can be a challenge, especially for the elderly, said Wanda Ramirez, executive director of Rebuilding Together Metro Chicago (RTMC).
The nonprofit is a nestled under the national organization, Rebuilding Together, and was formed in 1991. Its mission is to target low-income homeowners with deteriorating homes or major safety hazards and complete the necessary repairs for free. The organization recently announced that it is accepting applications from the Austin and Maywood communities for 2015 until Nov. 15. Click here to apply.
Volunteers and trade unions dedicate their time to fixing up and repairing the selected homes. RTMC always chooses one neighborhood for its Cook County program and one for its Chicago program. Someone previews the house in person to determine what work needs to be done. Chosen applicants get the work done every April for National Rebuilding Day. Since 1991, the organization has repaired more than 1,300 homes and 200 community facilities, with the assistance of tens of thousands of volunteers.
Rosie Melton, 87, is an Englewood homeowner and has lived alone since her husband passed away in 1975. She applied for the free repairs and was selected earlier this year. Her front stairs were painted and the iron rails were fixed. Melton’s entire bathroom was demolished, along with the fixtures. Volunteer workers installed new flooring, framing, wall board, fixtures and accessories. Her kitchen was also demolished and replaced with new cabinets, counters, appliances and more. They also checked her plumbing and electrical issues.
Melton has a heart disease and had open heart surgery in 2008.
“I had tried to fix it up from time, but I can’t do too much,” she said. When her daughter was still alive, the two would work on the house together, but after she passed away, Melton has been all alone.
Going after communities with a large population of senior citizens like Melton is what the organization does.
“A lot of our seniors want to live in their home and something as small as strengthening the railing can prevent potential hazards,” Ramirez said. “Our motto is warm, safe and dry, so all of the work we do is geared towards those three things.”
To be eligible, applicants must meet HUD income guidelines. Ramirez said that often, the elderly and disabled low-income homeowners are faced with tough financial decisions like choosing between their health needs and their home.
RTMC makes that decision easy though. Labor unions, companies and small businesses help sponsor a home, but the number of homes they work on depends on how many sponsors sign up. Last year RTMC was able to select 50 homes in Chicago and 30 in the suburbs. Turner Construction has been a part of National Rebuilding Day since the beginning. Tony Montalto, a former employee, volunteered his time last year for the first time. He worked as the house captain for Melton’s home and said that it’s easy to forget that not everyone can afford to have work done on their home.
“When you do projects everyday, you kind of lose perspective,” he said, adding that it was great to give Melton a nice and safe place to live.
The homeowner said she is very pleased with the work.
“They came at a good time, and now I just sit here and look at the work they’ve done and thank God and them,” she said.