For the past two years the East Atlanta Village Community Association’s Neighbor in Need program has been helping elderly or low-income residents with emergency home repairs at no cost to them.
Jeff Whitehouse, chairman of the Neighbor in Need Committee, said the repairs include fixing holes in a neighbor’s roof, replacing old pipes and water heaters and rewiring old electrical systems.
“A lot of the people we’ve helped, I’d say the majority of them, have lived in the community for over 30 years,” Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse said usually a neighbor of someone in need calls, or sends a letter or e-mail about an elderly person living in the neighborhood who needs home repair. In most cases, Whitehouse said they have little money and are living alone or have others to support. In some cases those in need may have been living for weeks without running water, air conditioning or working plumbing.
“A neighbor told us about a house on Oak Grove Road; the plumbing in her kitchen wasn’t working and she couldn’t use her kitchen sink,” Whitehouse said. “Recently we did a job on Monument Avenue. We took care of an 80-plus-year-old female living by herself who didn’t have hot water—we replaced her water heater and gave her a new roof.”
One of the reasons these houses have so many problems, Whitehouse said, aside from being old is that often residents can’t afford to hire a licensed contractor.
“With these particular people, due to their funds, they can’t exactly peel open the Yellow Pages and call somebody—they use a friend of a friend of a friend from down the street who probably doesn’t have a license and they do shoddy work. Sometimes these older people give them half their money up front and [go] walking off and they never get anything done,” Whitehouse said.
The program is funded by grants through such organizations as the National Association of Realtors. Local churches, residents and events such as the East Atlanta Beer Fest also donate money to the program. Last year, the program raised nearly $20,000. Additionally, members of the program host a poker tournament each year at the Midway Bar in East Atlanta Village and raise money by selling pumpkins at the East Atlanta Farmers Market each year.
“We get a lot more awareness out there by being at the farmers market because it’s a big social thing, so it’s good to get the word out that way,” Whitehouse said. “We’re trying to help as many people as possible. Sure there are a lot of houses that we could sink $40,000 into just to get it back into a habitable condition but we’re trying to help as many people as possible.”
Each project the program undertakes has to first be approved by the East Atlanta Community Association. Whitehouse said many of times when contractors visit the house of a neighbor in need, they say, “You’d be better off just bringing this one down to the foundation.” However, he said that is not an option for the program or the homeowner.
“That’s why we call it ‘emergency home repairs,’ because we’re trying to do what we can to keep them in the home. We’re not like a home makeover. We want to make sure they have hot water, a roof that doesn’t leak, and safely repaired windows and doors,” Whitehouse said.
Currently, the Neighbor in Need program is working with several residents, including Gwen Jones, who recently lost her husband and daughter, and suffered a stroke. Whitehouse said so far the program has put approximately $7,500 into Jones’ home—it replaced a water heater and fixed her roof. Recently Jones learned her pipes have all corroded and she currently has no running water.
“We kind of try to set a limit as to how much we can put into any single house,” Whitehouse said. He said as of now the limit has been reached, so he and other committee members are trying to raise more money to repair Jones’ plumbing.
“We’ve got another project where we’re helping a guy who has actually moved out of his house because it was so bad and is now looking to move back in. We’re going to see what we can do but that house needs so much work it’s going to be difficult to get our arms around,” Whitehouse said.