Rebuild Your City . . . One House at a Time

Two years ago, Dulcelina Silva’s backyard was not a safe place for her then 4-year-old autistic son Antonio to play. The sharp-edged remnants of an in-ground pool, overgrown brush and a dilapidated shed made the yard off-limits.

She feared the energetic, curious boy would be hit by a car darting into the street while playing in the front yard.

The single mother of four, who works in housekeeping at UMass Lowell, was kept awake at night worrying about the yard and other problems she could not afford to fix: drafty windows, a broken furnace, a busted fence. The 55-year-old three-bedroom, Colonial-style house on Burnham Road in the city’s Belvidere neighborhood, could use a paint job and some landscaping.

On April 24, 2010, 25 volunteers from Rebuilding Together Lowell descended upon her home. In one day’s work, a porch was built onto the back of the house, windows were replaced, the furnace was repaired, painting was done, soil was laid out front in preparation for planting, the fence was repairs and the backyard was cleared.

The house became a home again.

On that day, volunteers citywide installed 90 replacement windows in seven houses, re-shingled four houses, coordinated the installation of a chairlift by Mobility and More, as well as handled a variety of plumbing, roofing, painting and electrical projects.

Rebuilding Together Lowell was started as Christmas in April in 1997 by former City Councilor Peter Richards. Since being incorporated, the organization has completed about $1 million worth of repairs on more than 140 houses through the donation of more than 25,000 hours of work by 4,000-plus volunteers.

Chandra Linnell builds a porch on Dulcelina Silva’s Burnham Road home on Build Day 2010.

Applications for the 2013 build day (Saturday April 27) are now available, by clicking here: Application or by visiting the Lowell Senior Center on Broadway, the Neighborhood Services or Mayor’s Office at City Hall. The deadline to apply is October 31, but exceptions can be made.

Low-income, elderly or disabled residents, veterans and families with children in Lowell who are unable to maintain their homes due to financial or physical constraints and have homeowners’ insurance are eligible to apply. Work is done by volunteers and with donated materials, at no cost to the homeowner.

But, of course the bills must be paid by someone.

In recent years, the community organization has run into some financial difficulties – donations and sponsorships have slowed.

Additionally, new EPA regulations regarding construction work on homes build before 1978 have limited grant opportunities for the organization.

The EPA’s Renovation, Repair and Painting rule, which went into effect April 22, 2010, requires improvement work done on a home, child-care facility or school built before 1978 in which lead-based paint may be disturbed, to be done or supervised by firms or individual contractors who are certified by the EPA to do so. Additionally, workers must follow strict work practices to prevent lead contamination, which add significant costs to the project and the man power required would limit the number of homes the volunteers could work on during build day.

The regulations apply to projects that are done for “compensation.” Targeted funding, such as grants available from Home Depot or Lowe’s is considered “compensation.”

Violations come at a price tag of $37,500 each.

In order to remain viable, Rebuilding Together Lowell needs the support of private donors and corporate sponsors.

Local people helping local people; keeping families, seniors and veterans in warm, safe homes in Lowell. There is no question as to where the donations go; visit a site on build day, the results are concrete (literally).

For more information about Rebuilding Together Lowell visit www.rtlowell.org. Donations ca be sent to Rebuilding Together Lowell P.O. Box 13 Lowell, Ma. 01853.

In the interest of full disclosure: I am a member of the Board of Directors of Rebuilding Together Lowell.

Dulcelina Silva and her daughters on Build Day 2010.

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