Oakland program helps low income with home repairs

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Waterford Township — The roof leaked. The wiring was dangerous. Stairs were falling apart.

Holly Nelson couldn't keep up with all the repairs needed on the home she inherited from her grandmother, who died in 2006.

The end of a 28-year marriage, other deaths in the family and scrounging for work all added to what Nelson, 53, called a "couple bad years."

The house on Airport Road was "crumbling around me."

The Waterford Township woman found help for the home repairs through Rebuilding Together Oakland County, a program in which strangers volunteer to help low-income residents. It's part of a national movement started in the 1990s.

An estimated 1,000 volunteers were expected to fan out across Oakland County on Saturday to help homeowners do repairs they're unable to make themselves or can't afford.

"It is truly overwhelming — I can't tell you how thankful and grateful I am," said Nelson, choked up with emotion. "They put on a new roof and are working on my stairs, electrical wiring, even on a shed outside that needs repairs.

"There is no way I could either do this work or afford to have it done," said Nelson, a part-time caregiver who does house cleaning and other jobs. "I'm flabbergasted."

Gale Frazee, president of Rebuilding Together Oakland County, said the program is one of 176 affiliates that do repair work on 10,000 homes for low-income residents around the country.

To qualify for work, people must own the home they are living in and, if single, not earn more than $30,000 a year. A couple cannot earn more than $40,000 annually, Frazee said. The group can't help people who are destitute or can't keep their homes.

The Farmington Hills-based nonprofit repairs 50-100 homes in Oakland County every year, Frazee said. Since 1992 it has visited more than 900 homes, providing a quarter-million volunteer hours, which has translated into $7.2 million in benefits for homeowners and communities.

Frazee said volunteers, who must be at least 12 years old, come from religious organizations, youth groups, even corporate workforces.

"We will be in 21 different communities working on 29 homes over the next two weekends," Frazee said. "and we have a youth crew of 75 kids from National Honor Societies and clubs who will be doing yard work at 15 other homes."

The nonprofit group will also be providing volunteers to help refurbish a picnic area at Beech Wood Park, a Southfield city park. "The city had the money for materials but not for labor," Frazee said. "We will provide the crew."

John Klarich, the house captain in charge of supervising work being done at Nelson's home, said roof work was done by 1-800-New Look of Farmington Hills. Town & Country Siding in White Lake provided materials and volunteers to install new doors and windows, among other items.

"This house was basically falling apart," said Klarich, 78, who has been volunteering his help to the Rebuilding program for the past 15 years along with fellow parishioners at Highland Congregational Church in Highland Township.

"The roof was repaired but some of the stairs were really bad, wobbly or falling apart. The (electrical) wiring was atrocious and an accident waiting to happen. She had fire in the basement, which did other damage. There is just a lot of things that had been neglected or were in need of repair."

Klarich, a retired GM engineer, said volunteers are non-denominational and skilled and unskilled.

"We worked on a West Bloomfield home last year and the relatives of the people who lived there were so impressed they volunteered their services this year," Klarich said. "Other people do this every year. Local companies are also often very generous."


(248) 338-0319

How to help

■People interested in having work done by Rebuilding Together Oakland County can go to www.rebuildingtogether-oaklandcounty.org or call (248) 432-6551 for more information.

■To qualify for work, people must own the home they are living in.

■Single homeowners cannot earn more than $30,000 a year; a couple cannot earn more than $40,000 annually,