A 1-year-old nonprofit collaboration has provided more than $300,000 to 50 homeowners for repairs in the area.
Launched April 2018, Neighborhood Strong is a partnership between Home Repair Services and Amplify GR for homeowners in the Cottage Grove, Boston Square and Madison Square neighborhoods of southeast Grand Rapids.
Through partnerships with residents, businesses, community organizations and funders, Amplify GR serves people in those neighborhoods in four main areas: jobs and entrepreneurship, housing, education and community well-being.
Home Repair Services, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, provides critical health and safety house repairs to lower-income homeowners, as well as homeowner education programs like hands-on skill training, remodeling support, home inspections, financial coaching and foreclosure prevention.
The two organizations came together in response to concerns from residents over rising costs of homeownership, said Jonathan Ippel, executive director for Amplify GR.
With increased costs for housing, taxes, utilities and maintenance, plus more people living paycheck to paycheck, longtime homeowners have had to defer needed repairs, Ippel said.
“These small things can really put some homeowners over the edge, and it kind of creates a cascading effect of challenges,” he said.
The average length of stay for homeowners in the area has been 18 years, according to Ippel.
The collaboration with Home Repair Services expanded the list of eligible repairs for homeowners and expanded income eligibility.
“Neighborhood Strong is a program created by residents for residents with the intent to keep homeowners in their homes,” said Willie Patterson, Amplify GR community engagement director.
Funded by Amplify GR, the Neighborhood Strong program helps guide families through the process of obtaining quotes, gathering necessary documentation and potentially connecting with additional neighborhood resources.
Funding for home repairs depends on income and grants, paired with a 15%-25% copay by homeowners. Residents can receive up to $8,000 for home repairs, such as updated heating and cooling systems, roofs and installation of handicap-accessible entrances.
The income limit for a one-person household is $49,000, for two is $56,000, for three is $63,000 and for four is $69,900.
One client that benefited from the program owns a home that had a leaky roof. The moisture was causing mold problems in the house, which was causing respiratory issues for the people living there, Ippel said.
“An investment in a new roof then eliminated all these other issues that were happening because of it,” he said. “The folks that live there were now working more efficiently and living life more healthily because of the repairs that were able to happen.”
Another client was having a wheelchair ramp installed when a neighbor saw and learned about the program and took advantage, as well. The neighbor had been in an accident several years ago, and his spouse was developing back problems from having to push him up a steep ramp.
“Through this partnership, these two neighbors struck up a conversation and have developed a friendship,” Ippel said. “It’s another great illustration of these secondary effects that we didn't necessarily know would happen. It's neighbors helping neighbors and developing relationships and, ultimately, building a better and stronger community.”
Santos Rivera is an Oakdale resident who received funding assistance from the program for a furnace.
“Home Repair Services and Amplify GR have been such a blessing to my family, and I hope they continue to work together to help people like they did for me," Rivera said. "Both organizations are great resources for our neighborhood, and I hope the Neighborhood Strong program never stops.”
Interested homeowners can contact Home Repair Services at (616) 241-2601 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ippel said the collaboration is hoping to work on another 50 homes in the coming year, depending on the funding that can be secured. He said leaders are speaking with potential investors — including foundations and banks — that have expressed interest in partnering on the program.
He said the collaboration also is speaking with utility companies about ways energy-efficient systems could be implemented to help keep down utility costs.