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August 16, 2019

Improving Health through Critical Home Repair

By Peter Brown

Our caravan of cars and trucks trooped around West Charlotte on a damp, cold Friday in late February. The mission – to carry out “bid walks” with Habitat staffers and subcontractors on homes approved for Habitat Charlotte’s Critical Home Repair program.

As part of my initiation into Habitat, I’d asked Bettie Coltrane, a member of Habitat Charlotte’s Critical Home Repair team, if I could tag along to gain firsthand experience of the program. Bettie and I would meet with the homeowners, confirm issues in need of repair, and ask questions to make sure nothing was overlooked. The subcontractors would inspect the homes’ problems to prepare their repair estimates.

After our first stop – a small bungalow off Beattie’s Ford Road – we pulled up to the second home on our “tour,” Ms. Gilliam’s light brick ranch house. We knocked on the door and waited. When Ms. Gilliam opened the door, we noticed a space heater next to a chair in the small front room.

Ms. Gilliam politely obliged when asked for permission to enter her home to inspect the problems. As we walked past the front room where she had been sitting, I noticed a strange smell. As we entered the kitchen the source of the odor became apparent – Ms. Gilliam was using the gas burners on her range to heat her home. In addition, the kitchen displayed severe water damage, highlighted by a kitchen counter and sink that were no longer there, instead now occupied by a large hole in the sub floor.

Ms. Gilliam then led us down the hall, opening a door to the closet where the HVAC unit was located. As we peered inside, she informed us that it had been years since the unit functioned (as evident by the thick layer of dust) – in my mind I couldn’t envision enduring hot Charlotte summers and chilly winters without A/C or heat. Ms. Gilliam had been living this way for years.

Living in such conditions put Ms. Gilliam’s health at risk. The water damage and ensuing mold could lead to respiratory issues. More concerning, heating her home with a gas range increased Ms. Gilliam’s risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

In addition to HVAC and kitchen repairs, Ms. Gilliam’s home also needed a new roof and major bathroom repairs. Thankfully, each of these problems would be fixed through Habitat Charlotte’s Critical Home Repair program.

A new functioning shower (photo provided by Ms. Gilliam).

The kitchen sink, counters and cabinets where the hole in the sub floor used to be (photo provided by Ms. Gilliam).

Unaffordable and unstable housing is estimated to cost the United States $111 billion each year in avoidable health-related costs (source: Children’s HealthWatch: Unstable Housing Will Cost U.S. $111 Billion in Avoidable Healthcare Costs). Poor housing options may contribute to health issues, including chronic disease and injury and poor mental health, due to lack of access to a reliable source of medical care, overcrowding and safety risks such as mold, water leaks and inadequate heating or cooling systems (source: Housing Instability).

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) agrees that safe, affordable housing reduces health care costs and improves health outcomes. As evidence, earlier this year Blue Cross NC awarded Habitat Charlotte $400,000 in funding to support our Critical Home Repair program. “We all know a home is much more than a roof over your head,” said Patrick Conway, President and CEO of Blue Cross NC, in a recent press release announcing the grant. “A stable home provides a solid foundation for good health. Making sure North Carolinians have access to safe and affordable housing is one of the best ways we can address health issues that affect many in our state.”

With everything safe and sound, Ms. Gilliam now feels much better, and is no longer overwhelmed by her home’s challenges. When asked what it has been like to live in her house since the changes, she replied “It has been a joy with all the work that was done to my home. The installation of AC/heating was a godsend. I have used both the heating and air, and it has helped my utility bills tremendously. My bathroom, I just love that there are no leaks anymore. My kitchen, words cannot express the joy I feel when I walk into it.”

Since the program’s inception, Habitat Charlotte has served over 500 families in need of Critical Home Repair services. By offering these services on an affordable basis, Habitat Charlotte has allowed affected families – the majority low-income seniors – to continue living in their homes instead of losing them to disrepair. If you or anyone you know could use our help, please click the link below to learn more about our Critical Home Repair program.

Critical Home Repair

Ms. Gilliam sitting happily in her newly repair home. She says the completed work has been "a joy."

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