The Habitat for Humanity Repair Program serves homeowners who meet eligibility and income guidelines and are interested in assistance with necessary exterior home repairs that address safety, security, accessibility and code violations. The program focuses on the Jordan Heights neighborhood surrounding the St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus in Allentown. The Habitat for Humanity staff and/or subcontractors make exterior home repairs, such as roof, foundation and siding repairs.
Jill Wheeler, co-chair of the Housing Subcommittee and a member of the St. Luke’s Allentown Campus Board of Directors, said it’s critical for the neighborhoods around hospitals to rise and succeed. Toward that goal, St. Luke’s established the St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus Community Health Initiative, which brings together community-based organizations to improve access to care, reduce rates of chronic disease and improve mental and behavioral health. Other subcommittees are working on workforce, substance use disorders, chronic disease and education.
Frank Ford, president, St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus, is heavily involved with the initiative and invited Jessica Elliott, executive director of Habitat for Humanity to join the Housing Subcommittee.
“I was thrilled because we had received some funding for a repair program that we were trying to get up and running,” Elliott said. “The hospital started to really focus on housing as well, so I thought, ‘what a great opportunity for a partnership.’” Most homes in the Jordan Heights neighborhood are more than 100 years old and many need costly repairs.
The subcommittee works with many other government entities, community organizations, businesses and individuals to meet the family’s needs, including the city of Allentown; City Center Allentown, a real estate development company that is revitalizing downtown; and Community Action Lehigh Valley (CACLV).
“It’s about creating a healthy neighborhood and housing is a component of that,” Wheeler said. “Our mission is to work with neighborhood residents to establish safe and quality housing and help them connect to other services to create an overall sense of well-being for all household members.”
Ellen Denizard, MPA, Community Health Liaison Manager, St. Luke’s Allentown and Sacred Heart campuses, added that the formation of the Housing Committee has resulted in community partnerships, enabling charitable organizations to leverage the dollars being spent on homes in need of substantial repairs. For example, Habitat for Humanity of the Lehigh Valley and CACLV have joined together, with Habitat doing the exterior repairs and CACLV the interior ones.
“If a home needs $50,000 worth of work, instead of one organization covering the entire cost, they are now sharing the cost,” Denizard said. “This allows both organizations to spread their money to even more families. Furthermore, these home repairs not only benefit the present homeowner, but also will impact generations to come. Many of the families we help want to age in place and then pass their homes on to their children and grandchildren.”
Through the home repair program, other needs are often identified. St. Luke’s employs a community worker, Nelly Perez, who then deploys a plethora of services available through St. Luke’s, Wheeler said. For needs beyond St. Luke’s scope of services, Perez reaches out to other organizations involved with the project. For example, if a family has credit problems, she contacts a credit union working with the initiative.
Elliott said that through the home repair process, Habitat for Humanity builds a relationship with the family that makes them more receptive to working with others wanting to help them. The goal is not only about repairing the structure, but also about creating a healthy living space for the families.
“When we go into the home, we find that they don’t just need their windows repaired…,” she said. “Maybe they don’t have beds for the kids to sleep on, need living room furniture or have some interior repairs that need to be made as well, or maybe they don’t have the right contacts for services that are necessary in the home, whether it be dental services or counseling services. Every family is different.”
Homeowner Jacquelyn Valdez said the repair program replaced her roof, fixed her home’s foundation and will be fixing her gutters. She had been trying to make repairs herself for some time, but had difficulty saving enough money for the costly repairs.
“Having my home repaired means everything,” said Valdez, the mother of children aged 8 and 15. “I have peace of mind now, not having to worry about finding the money to pay for the repairs. Emotionally, it has made me stronger knowing that there is this kind of help out there and I’m not alone.”
The Habitat for Humanity Repair Program has helped five families so far, but would like to repair 25 homes a year, Elliott said. Eligible participants must own the home, maintain homeowners’ insurance and be current on mortgage and property tax payments. Income guidelines are based on family size, ranging from $45,900 for an individual to $86,550 for a family of eight.
Elliott said the first homeowner they worked with through the repair program had pieces of drywall in her home. She explained that when she saw water damage, she would hire a contractor to fix it, but couldn’t afford a costly roof repair.
“She was trying so hard to take care of what she had, but a roof repair, especially in the city is so expensive,” Elliott said. “It was heartbreaking to see someone put so much effort into having a healthy home but just not being able to come up with the money. We were able to take on the burden of that expense, so she didn’t have to keep putting a Band-Aid on her home.”
Valdez said she is grateful for the help she received and would recommend it to anyone. The tradesmen who repaired her home were very respectful and professional, she said, always arriving on time and making sure that the work met her expectations.
“It was wonderful,” she said. “I feel truly blessed.”
St. Luke’s invites community organizations and businesses to become involved with the St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus Community Health Initiative by joining a committee. The Initiative also welcomes contributions from businesses or individuals. For more information, contact Denizard at 610-776-5456 or Ellen.Denizard@sluhn.org.
Note: This local health news is brought to you in partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network.