Providing people with safe and healthy homes is the No. 1 priority for Rebuilding Together-St. Louis and its army of volunteers. Executive director Dave Ervin says the same needs exist today as they did when the local affiliate was founded 17 years ago. “The housing stock in much of St. Louis is old and in dire need of repair,” he says. “We will probably never exhaust the supply of houses that need attention.” He adds that the number of homeowners needing help has grown steadily over the years.
“In the early days, they’d do a handful of houses. This past year, we fixed 180 homes, and in the next 12 months, we expect to work on about 250 homes,” Ervin says. “This economy has really impacted people’s ability to keep up, and with the houses getting older by the year, it will be many years before we’re able to attend to all of them.”
Rebuilding Together began in Washington, D.C., more than 30 years ago as ‘Christmas in April.’ “For one day in April, volunteers would come together and fix and rehab homes for people in need,” Ervin explains. “It became such a popular concept that they changed the name to Rebuilding Together and decided to work on homes year-round.”
The utmost concern for every home is addressing its safety issues. “Plumbing and electrical are on top of the list. Many homes have unsafe electrical configurations, or leaky plumbing. Some houses have rotten floors or stairs,” Ervin says. “We also paint, and fix other cosmetic problems inside and out.”
The organization accepts applications from homeowners throughout the St. Louis region, with a majority of applicants coming from St. Louis city and county. “The homeowners we help are low-income, as defined by HUD. And we definitely respond to those who are elderly and disabled—those who can’t do their own repairs,” Ervin says. Potential applicants learn about Rebuilding Together through various outreach programs, local governments, churches and word-of-mouth, he says. “Many of the homeowners we’ve helped have sent us referrals—that really aids in our mission.” Some 500 applications are received annually. “We talk to the homeowners, and visit with work evaluators and house inspectors,” he explains. “Then our house selection committee identifies the homes with the greatest need.”
Once the houses are selected, the organization turns to its 2,500-strong volunteer base. “These are people from various communities and organizations—good-hearted people who want to improve the neighborhoods in which they live and work,” Ervin says. A house captain is assigned for each home to coordinate with suppliers, vendors and volunteers. “About 20 to 30 volunteers show up to work on one house,” he says. “They usually do all the work in one day.” The organization is currently getting ready for Rebuilding Day on May 1. “It’s a tradition for us: We fix 100 houses in one day,” Ervin says.
Much of the funding for rebuilding homes is provided by individual and corporate donations, as well as local and federal governments and special events like trivia nights and ArtFix, an art gala and auction held every November. Ervin stresses that donations are always needed to continue to keep needy neighbors safe and communities strong.
“Improving the community’s housing stock is a lofty goal, but that’s our goal,” Ervin says. “Not only is it rewarding for us to hear the homeowners express their gratitude, but we see the results for ourselves as soon as we step out onto the sidewalk. Houses that had leaky doors and windows and furnaces and fixtures that didn’t work are now fully functioning.”
On the Cover: Join Rebuilding Together St. Louis for ‘Rebuilding Day’ on Saturday, May 1. Financial support is still needed from individuals and corporations in the effort to fix 100 houses in one day. For more information, call 918-9918 or visit www.rebuildingtogether-stl.org. Cover design by Dawn Stremlau | photo by Jason Mueller