If you know someone—whether an elderly neighbor, a disabled friend, or even yourself—in tough financial circumstances who needs critical repairs or modifications to a home, it's tempting to dream of a dramatic reality-show rescue, with a shiny truck full of contractors and TV cameras and lights pulling up to the door to work a miraculous makeover in 30 minutes. But, like the lottery, the numbers are stacked against that happening.
But that's no reason to despair, because your surest source of hope may be much closer to home. There are organizations, national and local, that quietly help many thousands of low-income homeowners each year. Whether you're looking for help or looking to volunteer, here are some avenues to explore.
With a vision of "a safe and healthy home for every person," Rebuilding Together began as a small group of people in Midland, Texas, who came together in 1973 as Christmas in April. Their goal: Help neighbors whose homes had fallen into disrepair but who could not afford to fix them. What was then a once-a-year day of service expanded and became a year-round endeavor that was reorganized as Rebuilding Together in 1988. Through its nationwide network of affiliates and partners, corporate and individual donors, skilled tradespersons, and volunteers, it provides extensive repairs, rehabilitation, and accessibility modification services for thousands of homeowners in need each year. Visit Rebuilding Together to find the affiliate nearest you and learn more about what it offers.
Habitat for Humanity International
You might think of Habitat for Humanity only in its well-known role as a builder of affordable housing for new homeowner/buyers in the States and abroad, but in many areas it also renovates existing buildings, and it has programs that help people repair and upgrade their own homes and communities. Selection of Habitat homeowners is determined by each local affiliate, based on the family's level of need, willingness to partner (including a minimum number of "sweat equity" hours and classes in home maintenance and finance), and ability to make affordable monthly mortgage payments. Some affiliates also offer other services and workshops that are open to individuals of all income levels. And many operate a ReStore, a nonprofit donation center that sells new and gently used appliances, building materials, and furniture to the public at a fraction of the retail price. Visit Habitat for Humanity to find out about the affiliate nearest you.
See what this editor learned from her own experience as a Habitat volunteer in Top Dozen Tips for Enjoying a Volunteer Vacation.
Local volunteer programs
You might not need to look farther than your own backyard. In many communities, churches and other charity organizations have volunteers who can perform home repairs. If you do a Google search for "home repair ministry" or "home repair volunteers" with the name of your county or state, you will likely find sources nearby; or just call around to local churches and ask.
For more information on home-repair volunteering, including a list of 19 groups that help the elderly and disabled in locations across the country and ideas for starting your own grassroots team, read Home Repair Volunteers.
Many resources, including grants or loans to make necessary repairs or modifications, are available through states, counties, and municipalities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains a comprehensive listing with links to programs and other resources for every state. To find resources near you, go to hud.gov and type "home repair assistance" with your state name in the site's search window. They even have links to local programs by town.
Homes for Our Troops is a nonprofit that builds specially adapted housing for severely injured post-9/11-era veterans. This Old House TV partnered with HFOT in the 35th season of TOH. Visit Homes for Our Troops to learn how to apply or help.
Habitat for Humanity, Rebuilding Together, and The Home Depot Foundation also have programs to help veterans.
Above all, if you're seeking help, be patient (there will be waiting lists), be persistent (organizations are often overloaded, so if at first you don't get a response, try again), and be flexible (be ready to work within what an organization offers), and don't give up. And if you have home-repair skills you're willing to share, there's a world of ways in which you can put your generosity to work.