October 22, 2013 | Vol. 74 No. 13

Volunteers help keep seniors in homes

It doesn’t help Pittsburgh homeowners that nearly 60 percent of the homes in the city were built before 1940, said Alan Sisco, deputy director for Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh.

“These are houses that are over 100 years old, built hastily to house mill workers,” he said. “So eventually they’re going to fall apart and deteriorate.”

Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, in partnership with the Brashear Association, is out to help elderly homeowners fight back. Rebuilding Together is a national program founded in 1988 with 200 chapters nationwide. The local chapter in Pittsburgh has been around since 1993, and offers free home repair to low income senior citizens, veterans, and people with disabilities.

With winter coming, Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh is working toward its goal for 2013 of 120 home repairs and 80 emergency repairs. So far this year, it has done 85 home repairs and 57 emergency repairs.

“They’re an extraordinarily good program,” said Christine Gaus, director of services at the Brashear Association, which began a partnership with Rebuilding Together in 2011. “It’s a program that’s very dynamic and is expanding. They have a clear set of goals and are moving forward towards achieving those goals.”

All of the home repair services by Rebuilding Together are done by volunteers free of charge to homeowners who qualify. To qualify for a home repair, residents must be at least 60 years of age or have a documented disability, must live in Allegheny County, be current on all real estate taxes, and be earning less than 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines based on the size of the household.

They serve not only the Hilltop and South Side Slopes, but other “impact neighborhoods,” such as Hazelwood and Wilkinsburg. For many homeowners, the topography of South Side Slopes and the Hilltop is a major reason why some of the homes are in the shape they are.

“The problems vary in the Hilltop and South Side Slopes,” said Mr. Sisco. “For people who live at the top, there’s a lot of foundation issues because of the layout and uneven terrain. For the people who live at the bottom of the hill, you see more water damage because of rain that comes down the hill after a storm. So it can be a wide array of things.”

“Most of the people are older, and the homes just aren’t up to standard,” said Frank Hammond, a Community Investment Officer at BNY Mellon and member of the board of directors at Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh since 2006. “They’re less able to take care of the property, so we try to make the home accessible and comfortable for them.”

Hammond became a volunteer for Rebuilding Together after a community development day, and fell in love with the work they do.

“They’re just good people,” Mr. Hammond said. “It’s been a very good fit. The success we’ve had and the people whose lives we’ve transformed have all been motivation. We also have a lot of people who just generally enjoy working with one another and helping people.”

“We’ve grown in size and scope, as well as partnership and funding,” Mr. Hammond said. “We can move forward in helping more and more people, and we are eager to do that.”

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