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By Chelle Samaniego
“Every night I went to bed wondering if the whole wall was going to fall down, but there was nothing else I could do. Now we just want to live out the rest of our lives in warmth and comfort.” Crack riddled walls, a shifting foundation and cold winter nights were all the Pordias’ family knew. After spending 30 years in their home, Elphaus and Georgia Mae Pordia took the advice of long-time friend and City Council member Wilbert Austin and pursued assistance through the City of Waco’s Rehab/Reconstruct Program.
On August 18, 2009, Georgia and Elphaus Pordia, with tears streaming down their faces, watched as demolition crews bulldozed their 100-year-old house to the ground, a bitter sweet beginning to the construction of their new home.
In November, the Pordias were among three families who received the keys to their brand-new homes, just in time for the holidays. They moved from an unleveled, aging structure into a two-bedroom, one-bath home with a stone faÃ§ade and crisp, country blue paint.
Ms. Fannie Mae Lewis moved in on November 30th, and with keys in hand, stepped into her new 1,200-square-foot home complete with brand new kitchen appliances. Each home includes a new stove with overhead vent, a dishwasher and a refrigerator. In addition, the Waco City Council recently approved an increase in the amount of money available to build each home allowing for the installation of home security systems and metal cages with locks for all outside HVAC compressor units.
Ernest Brooks and Florida DeGrate’s new home came equipped with slopedwalkways, wider doors and handicapped assessable bathrooms. The Housing and Community Development Department staff takes great care in considering both the current needs and the future needs of those applying for homes in the program. Therefore, all homes built in the program are handicapped assessablefor the future needs of senior homeowners as well as visiting family and friends.
Most homes in the program go from demolition to completion in four months, but with the help and expediency of EDC Homes, a homebuilder out of Temple, each of these three quality-built homes were completed one month ahead of schedule.
The Rehab/Reconstruct Program, through the City’s Housing and Community Development Department, provides special assistance for homeowners who are at 80 percent or less of the median income for the City of Waco and live within the Waco city limits.Those who qualify could receive special provisions under the city’s Relocation Policy allowing reimbursement for all moving and living expenses during the time of reconstruction up to $3,000. To learn more about how you may benefit from the City of Waco’s Rehab/Reconstruct Program, please call 254-750-5656 or visit www.waco-texas.com.
By Rachel Svrchek
When I took this job, I knew it would open the door to a world in Waco I’ve only briefly passed through. You can drive through an impoverished neighborhood, even live in one, and still remain at a distance from what living in poverty really feels like.
Poverty is a reality for many in Waco. It’s a mountain that people stare at with uncertainty and little hope of ever climbing. Like being caught in the gears of a great machine, bones crunching under the weight of a culture and a system that is full of challenges. “Opportunity” and “abundance” are words that seem in short supply, drowning in the sea of struggle, survival, and fatigue. Fortunately, there is hope!
Some manage to keep their eyes set on a north star, pressing through numerous challenges until they arrive at a more hopeful destination. Others give into circumstance and resign to survival. Others may never even consider that life could be different. The elderly suffer. The young and strong. The children. No group is exempt.
Every day when I go to work, I sit down with hard working people who are doing the best they can and simply don’t know what else to do. From the single mother, working nights as a waitress to feed her three children, to the struggling couple about to have their third child this winter and unable to pay their rent, to the woman who lost her job because of a health crisis, these Waco residents come to our department looking for help.
Kleenex is as staple as my required documentation as stories are shared, anxieties expressed, pain given a voice. My caseload is full, and the war inside between taking time to listen and care and getting the job done is pronounced. I juggle being compassionate and effective, being an ear and being the hands and feet of service.
I wear this job like a coat that doesn’t fit. It’s actually more like a coat that is still being sewn on my body while I’m trying to stay warm. This is a new program and as I’ve said a hundred times, we are building the plane in the air. I’m in charge of everything from reporting to the federal government, to processing check requests, to working with clients and landlords to aid in housing stabilization and to prevent struggling Wacoans from entering into the cycle of homelessness. Every day is a learning experience. 8 hours of adrenaline and focus. I have to learn how to navigate this maze of urgency and need in a way that doesn’t take a toll on me.
One of my favorite things about my job is sitting with people who are carrying burdens (imagine being a single mother facing the prospect of your children having to live on the streets) and seeing waves of relief wash over them when I tell them there is something we can do to help. Tears, gratitude, smiles, and even sometimes hugs are often unexpected rewards.
I’ve plunged into the world of poverty, of the struggle of the working class and poor in my city. I’ve lived overseas so I have seen poverty. It just looks different here in America. I’m uncertain of where this will eventually lead me or how it will shape my path. But I have found myself more thankful for being warm, being well fed, having a safe place to sleep at night and money in the bank to pay my bills. Simple things I’ve taken for granted have begun to feel more like the blessings and grace that they truly are.
I’ve stepped through a doorway many social service providers in my community have walked through long ago. There are so many amazing people in Waco who have a heart to serve their community. I feel honored to be part of the collaborative team that is caring for those who need a helping hand. Every day we see and hear difficult things, difficult realities and use the tools we have been given to make a difference. Those that can remain in a place of service without growing hard are my heroes, and there are many such people.
I will have more stories to tell. The road ahead will be intersected by many lives I would have never met otherwise. I will need a fresh supply of compassion from Above, along with Wisdom to make good decisions and strength to do my job day after day. As always, new worlds provide adventure €“ the unknown, the ups and downs, the joy and the heaviness of life. I am pulling this coat tight and trusting each thread will be sewn just in time.
Rachel Svrchek administers the HPRP program at the City of Waco. HPRP is a new grant that focuses on homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing of those who have recently become homeless. This program can provide case management, legal assistance related to housing situations, credit counseling, financial counseling, and direct financial assistance for those who have experienced a recent loss of income or housing crisis. The Salvation Army, Caritas and Catholic Charities of Central Texas are partnering agencies that are also administering HPRP funding.
Unique Affordable Housing Opportunity
After several years of planning, the transformation of the old Waco High School campus into one, two, and three bedroom apartments is in sight. The former Waco High School building at 815 Columbus Avenue in downtown Waco is beginning to look more and more like an apartment building. When renovations are complete, there will be 104 apartment homes available. Landscaping beautifies the surrounding area and playground equipment has also been installed.
Landmark Group is the project developer, and the contractor is Rehab Builders, Inc. The construction project manager, Ryan Tobin from Rehab Builders, Inc. recently gave Housing and Community Development Services staff a tour of the building. We saw several amazing apartments inside the old Waco High.
The contractors encountered several challenges in transforming the old school building into livable spaces. They had to cut doors through concrete walls and tear out floors for plumbing. But the challenges were well worth the final outcome that will result.
Throughout the renovation process, the contractors maintained the historical integrity of the building by keeping the structure as close to original as possible. They have integrated many of the original fixtures in the new design, including the windows, light fixtures in the common areas, chalkboards and original hardwood flooring in select units, as well as the basketball goals and scoreboard in the former gymnasium. A local artist is also expected to restore a painted mural dating back to the 1940’s in one of the community rooms. Mr. Tobin told us this project was much like the upscale developments in larger cities that involve the adaptive re-use of an older vacant building.
The walls are painted in a pale green color that is not only inviting, but also hearkens back to the school’s original color scheme. New fixtures include wood kitchen cabinetry, Kenmore kitchen appliances, vinyl composite tile in the bathrooms and wall-to-wall carpet in the living areas and bedrooms. The City of Waco provided $750,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds and General funds to this project along with $500,000 in TIF funds. All 104 units will be affordable and the residents will have to meet certain income qualifications.
If you are interested in renting one of these unique apartments, you can call 866-433-3387 for additional leasing information and income guidelines.
This year’s Raise the Roof event is fast approaching! Each year volunteers join together to build the exterior of a new house in just one week!
John Alexander of Habitat for Humanity comments, “This year marks the 10th annual Raise the Roof project, which is a partnership between Waco Habitat for Humanity and the City of Waco. Each year the program has been a success. Waco Habitat is fortunate to have a great working relationship with the City of Waco and this project gives us a chance to celebrate that partnership every year.”
Jeff Wall of the City of Waco also says, “We are proud to work side by side with Waco Habitat for Humanity in building their 13th house in our annual Raise the Roof event. Each year the City employees and Waco residents step up and build a quality, affordable house for a first time homebuyer. I want to especially thank our firefighters who each year greatly support this event along with our city manager who is always the first person to sign up to work. We also thank all of you that have volunteered this year and in the past years. Your unselfish labor has provided many new families with safe decent homes for their dear families.”
Please consider volunteering. We still need volunteers to build an affordable house for Tawana Evans and her son who is disabled and in a wheelchair. Lunch, snacks, beverages, and a T-shirt will be provided to all volunteers!
Please contact Shawna Bolen at 750-5676 if you are interested in volunteering.
By Marcus Davilla
After living in their home for 30 + years, on August 18th, 2009 Georgia Mae and Elphaus Pordia, with tears streaming down their faces, witnessed their 100 year old home being bull-dozed to the ground. The Pordia’s home had been plagued with problems for quite some time. Mr. Pordia explained, “Our major problem was the foundation. The house was so unleveled that it had shifted throughout the years and caused huge cracks and holes. It would get so cold on the inside. We called to see how much it would cost to get the house leveled and one estimate was $8,000 and others wouldn’t even touch it.” City Council member Wilbert Austin, an old friend of 40 years, advised them to look into City programs. “I remember ya’ll helping out another friend of ours with a new house, so I figured I’d check into it,” said Mr. Pordia.
In July, Georgia and Elphaus Pordia began their journey to a new home through the City of Waco’s Rehab/Reconstruct program. This program enables homeowners to demolish their existing homes that are in need of excessive repairs and have a new home built in its place. This can seem like a long process at times, but very worth the wait. Some homes are more challenging than others when faced with reconstruction, as was the case with the Pordia’s. The first major delay came when the property needed a variance. A variance is required when zoning setbacks cannot be met. The Pordia’s went before the Board of Adjustments and a variance was granted because of the odd shape of the lot. Just when things appeared on track again, the scheduled closing would have to be postponed due to a survey omission error. The survey was amended and recorded a second time and two weeks later, the closing date was finalized. A family less determined may have just thrown up their hands and given up on the process. However, with diligence and hard work from all involved, the dream of a new home is finally being realized.
The old home has now been demolished and foundation work on the new home has begun. The completion of the new home is set for mid-December. Quoting Mr. Pordia, “Every night I went to bed wondering if the whole wall was going to fall down, but there was nothing else I could do. Now we just want to live out the rest of our lives in warmth and comfort.” Mrs. Pordia commented, “Ya’ll are making my dreams come true. Ya’ll have really lifted us up. We really appreciate everything the City has done.”
Come December, we hope the next time we see their tears, they will be tears of joy for their new home. Thanks to City funded programs, and the hard work and persistence of members of our community, dreams really do come true.
By Rachel Svrchek
Conrad Lahr grew up in north eastern New York, the 4th born of 6 children. After the death of his mother, a restlessness settled into Conrad’s heart and he found himself wondering from state to state, never staying anywhere for too long. Conrad boarded a bus for California in 1993, but got off in Dallas and has been in Texas ever since.
In Conrad’s restlessness and pain, he found himself tangled in the web of drugs and alcohol. On his way to a treatment center in Austin, he saw a sign for the Salvation Army off of I35 and felt compelled to stop in Waco. He then noticed what looked like a party under the overpass. When he approached, he realized people were having church. At this first encounter in Waco at Church Under the Bridge, Conrad says that he had an overwhelming sense that he was supposed to stay in Waco. “God was telling me to stay. I had heard him speak to me in the past, but I just hadn’t listened before.”
Conrad enrolled in and completed the 6 month program at the Manna House, and moved into transitional housing. He then managed the Light House, a transitional housing facility here in Waco, for the next 5 years.
Conrad found a great job and continued to volunteer at Church Under the Bridge and Mission Waco. He developed needed balance and stability in his life where previously there had been wandering and extremes. About 2 years ago, the desire for more began to stir in Conrad’s heart and he decided to pursue home-ownership through Habitat for Humanity.
He started the paperwork, was approved, and began his volunteer work hours. Habitat requires each applicant to work 300 hours of “sweat equity” into the process. The first 150 are typically invested in other people’s homes and the second 150 hours are often spent more on a participant’s future home.
The particular area in south Waco where Conrad wanted to live has 10 Habitat homes. Conrad was able to invest his hours into 5 or 6 homes within his own neighborhood. He was not only working towards owning his own home, but literally building his neighborhood and the relationships with his new neighbors that would truly make this area a community!
Another wonderful aspect about the Habitat process is that future homeowners are connected with a “Family Support” person, a volunteer from the community who is available to encourage and guide them through the process when things get tough. Conrad expressed genuine gratitude for the support he received from Jay Bryngleson. Habitat also requires participants to complete “Homeowners College,” a series of classes that teach the ins and outs of homeownership. This fully equips these new homeowners for success. Conrad commented that the Homeowners College “really prepares you for things you wouldn’t think of.”
As the months rolled by, the hours Conrad spent working for his new home were doing more than he realized at the time. Relationships were being built that would be the bricks and mortar of a new life and new community for Conrad.
Another joy for Conrad throughout this process was working with Habitat’s Prison Partnership. Three days a week, women from Linda Woodman State Jail in Gatesville come and spend the morning building Habitat homes. This benefits the projects as it keeps the work moving forward during the week and also provides these women with a sense of pride and accomplishment as they invest positively in the community. Conrad felt a special compassion for these women, since he had himself been in prison before. He found joy in being able to barbeque for them one day and treat them to some great food they would not enjoy otherwise.
Thanks to the City of Waco’s Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance Program, “Thrivent Builds” (a non-profit branch of the Lutheran Church that contributes to such projects), as well as city-funded IDA program through Waco Community Development, Conrad’s house payments have been kept as low as possible.
Since moving into his new home, Conrad’s life has changed in many ways, all for the better. Not only does he have his own “castle” where he loves to landscape and build, and has a place for his pets, his sense of self-worth and ownership are a new found strength. During Conrad’s years of wandering, a lot of damage was done to his relationships. One unexpected benefit of having this new home is that it has begun the process of restoring his relationships with his family. Many of his family members have visited him for the first time to help with his home. The stability he now finds puts an end to the empty apologies he has made in the past.
Conrad is truly a man who has been blessed by “people helping people” in Waco. Relationships are key to Habitat’s success in building our community one home at a time. Conrad’s response is one of gratefulness and humility. He has fulfilled his obligations, yet continues to invest in the community by volunteering at Habitat. He genuinely encourages anyone who is serious about changing their lives to pursue such a process with Habitat. “It’s not free; you really have to work for it.” But it was the process of working towards his new home that not only transitioned Conrad’s life from homelessness to home-ownership, but has transformed his very life, giving him a deep sense of self-respect and a meaningful place in this community.
The City of Waco and its many housing and homeless partners continue to make a difference in the lives of many of our residents. We especially want to thank Habitat Waco for the great job it does for our community.
The American dream of home ownership became a reality for Rozena Timmons. Because of tax credits and rebates adding up to $36,000, Ms. Timmons was able to purchase a brand new, 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom 1,100 square foot home! The original sales price was $109,000 and without the assistance of the City of Waco and the IRS rebate, Ms. Timmons may not have been able to afford her new home. Ms. Timmons qualified for a $25,000 forgivable loan from the City of Waco, $8,000 from the Stimulus Recovery Act and by taking part in Waco Community Development’s IDA program where she put up $1,000 of her own money, it was matched with an additional $2,000. That’s $36,000 in assistance!
There is currently another available home in the same Pecan Valley subdivision. You can call the City of Waco at (254) 750-5665 to obtain an application and begin the qualification process.
- For first time home buyers, the New/Acquisition program allows for $12,000 for those with income between 60.01% and 80% of the median income (for Waco by family size) and $15,000 for those with income 60.00% or below (0% repayable Loan). For the Pecan Valley Subdivision only, participants are eligible for an additional $10,000.
- The federal refund from the Stimulus Recovery Act for first time homebuyers is up to $8,000.00 or 10% of the sales price of the home, whichever is lower.
- Waco Community Development offers Individual Development Accounts (IDA) to help families save money for a home. They will match your $1 with $2 for up to $1,000.
Please call or visit the following organizations for more information:
- NeighborWorks Waco, (254) 752-1647
- Waco Community Development, (254) 235-7358
- City of Waco-Housing and Community Development Services, (254) 750-565
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” - Christopher Reeve
By Brooke Rasco
Vernon, a resilient man in his 50’s, is a hero in every sense of the word. After proudly wearing our stars and stripes as he served in the military, he survived the streets as a homeless man and now is a source of hope and a voice for other local veterans.
Born and raised in Waco, Vernon attended A.J. Moore High and learned hard work, pride, and self-respect from his parents. When Vernon was 18, Vietnam was in full swing. Wanting to expand his horizons, Vernon enlisted in the military and served courageously for 2 tours. He climbed in rank to a Staff Sergeant and guarded the air space over Korea. During one of his 13-month tours, he received serious life threatening injuries from shrapnel. He should not have lived, but was saved by his canine partner who shielded him.
Vernon returned home as a hero, but his injuries worsened requiring him to relocate to an El Paso hospital where they removed half of his stomach. Along with multiple surgeries, Vernon was increasingly getting sicker from other overseas illnesses he had been exposed to. Far away from his family and friends and enduring extreme pain, Vernon was comforted by a nurse who would hold his hand throughout his stay, giving him hope each day.
Eventually returning to Waco, Vernon married, but he could not shake the overseas military philosophy of “Work hard, play hard” which included a bout with drugs. Vernon and his wife divorced, he lost his home and according to him, “went off the deep end.” In search of family in Austin, Vernon moved but his hopes of a reunion were quickly dashed as he learned his family had relocated. Finding himself alone and homeless, Vernon “followed the cry” of the Austin homeless. He lived for 2 years on the streets learning how to daily survive from other homeless people in Austin.
“You are forced to do things you don’t want to in order to survive.” During his time on the streets, Vernon’s drug use intensified. Despite his situation, he always showed pride by looking presentable which enabled him to earn money through temporary work. “There were times when I didn’t think I was going to make it. Just cause you are homeless doesn’t mean you are not worthy,” said Vernon.
One day while staying in a park, Vernon’s life changed. A group of 12 people called Fishes and Loaves, a feeding ministry, introduced themselves to him. The group was attending a Street Retreat in order to experience homelessness. Skeptical at first, but unable to deny his love for people, Vernon befriended the group and became their protector on the streets and showed them the ropes. The group surrounded Vernon with love and acceptance, while helping him get on his feet. They paid his rent in Austin until his VA checks came through. They visited, and showed care for Vernon.
Most of all, these once 12 strangers showered him in love. Vernon stayed successfully off the streets for 1-½ years, but soon realized that Austin was too expensive and the “bottom fell out again.” Vernon said, “You can get out of homelessness, but there have to be a lot of things in place to be successful.” Homeless once again, Vernon returned to the VA hospital in Temple and completed an 8-month rehab program. During this lonely time, the group of 12 remained faithful, visiting him and writing letters. After completing 8 months of rehab, one of the 12, Mark Heard, took Vernon into his home and allowed him to stay with his family for 3 weeks until he could move back to Waco, since Austin was too expensive.
There were complications with Vernon’s pension upon arriving in Waco and once again Vernon was on the streets. With a deep sigh, Vernon said, “No vet should have to walk the streets.” Soon after, things began to look up. During the Homeless Walk, a local event in Waco, Vernon met Teri Holtkamp and Mike Husted, a VA counselor who helped Vernon qualify for the VASH program. The VASH program assists disabled veterans in qualifying for housing. One thing led to another and now we can happily report that Vernon now lives in a nice apartment, and is looking into home ownership in the near future. In addition to having a place to live, Vernon works part-time at Willow Springs Hospital. Willow Springs is extremely veteran friendly and help make it possible for Vernon to continue his success.
During Vernon’s free time he tries to help others by seeking out old furniture and clocks. He fixes them and then donates them to veterans who are moving into new housing. A local librarian nicknamed Vernon, “The Activist” because he enjoys spending time at the library, daily reading newspapers and researching justice issues.
According to Vernon, “Love for self is the missing link to staying off the streets and overcoming.” Vernon’s group of 12 friends, Teri, Mike, strong family values, his faith in God, and finally Vernon himself helped him retain love, energy, ambition and the willingness to succeed. Vernon’s story is only one of 400,000 other homeless heroes who walk the street in a given year in America. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or a box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country so that we can wave our flags proudly and sing, “I am proud to be an American.”
By Rachel Svrchek
Vikki rolled into Waco on a greyhound bus, the day she was released from prison. On her way to Temple her bus broke down here. Waiting several hours for the next bus to come, this unexpected stop became much longer. Vikki says she was met with such kindness in Waco that she decided to stay.
Kindness in Waco. Concern for the down and out. A smile. A helping hand. An encouraging word from a stranger. These were stepping stones in the path to progress that Vikki began in our community. Before I explain who have been the fingers of this helping hand and where Vikki is today, it’s important to understand where Vikki came from and how she got there.
Vikki, an uncharacteristically vibrant young woman in her early 40’s grew up in Ft. Worth, TX. Her childhood was riddled with tragedy. As a six year old, she witnessed her father shoot her mother in the head. At his hands, she suffered abuse at home, as well as lived through the murder of her brother. Vikki started using drugs to cope with life’s tragedy. To support her drug habit, Vikki began stealing and hanging out with the wrong crowd. Life was on a downward spiral. For years, she found herself in and out of jail, losing hope with each stay. What she didn’t know was that her last incarceration was to be the visit that changed her life. Tired of stealing, drugs, and running, Vikki returned to roots of faith that had been planted in her as a young child. She had a supernatural encounter in prison that left her forever changed. Her cravings for drugs instantly disappeared and she found the peace and love she had been missing. She beamed as she told me of her changed life and how she has never been the same. Vikki is a deeply grateful and joyful woman who loves to tell her story. There is so much more to her story that I can’t share in this article, but Vikki will gladly tell you if you’d like to know!
With no friends or family in Waco and unsure where to turn, Vikki started her new life. She thanks My Brother’s Keeper, where for two weeks she received temporary lodging, food, and other assistance. It was there that she became friends with Teri Holtkamp, the City of Waco’s Homelessness Administrator, who was able to connect her with other services in the community. Vikki is getting on her feet at Just As I Am Ministries where she lives in one of the women’s homes and participates in activities that are helping her rebuild her life.
Vikki thanks the Heart of Texas Workforce Commission who has been extremely helpful with faxing resumes and helping her find work. She just finished a temporary job and daily looks for something more full time. Vikki writes beautiful poetry and loves animals. Her dream job would be working outside with animals, but I sense that her story is so powerful it will take her places she has never imagined. With the encouragement of her new friends in Waco, Vikki is thinking about going to college for drug counseling or creative writing.
“Waco is a great town! I love the city of Waco! There are friendly people here. People who care about people,” said Vikki.
It’s been said that the true measure of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. In Waco, many agencies and individuals are coming together in the lives of the vulnerable, lending a helping hand that will enable them to be contributing members of society. Without this kind of city-wide cooperation, many people like Vikki would become chronically homeless or continue in cycles of poverty and incarceration. Thanks to the many individuals and agencies that have been part of this rebuilding process in Vikki’s life!
“Take Flight” - By Vikki Sapp
Take flight and start to fly
Spread your wings far and wide
Let yourself go and start to soar
So you will fly for ever more
Start to feel the wind in your face
I will take you to another place
Wait and see just where you land
I will deliver you to My healing hands
Where I will keep you safe from harm
And embrace you with My loving arms
And when you are ready to take this flight
I’ll bless your heart every night
So come fly to Me so you can feel
The ultimate love of God that’s real
Vikki goes to the library every day to check on jobs and check her email. If you know of any work in your area, Vikki can be reached at VikkiSapp@yahoo.com and would love to hear from you. Be sure and tell her where you heard her story.
By Teri Holtkamp
“I love it, g food, g friends, helpful classes & prayers…its GREAT!”
Text messaging…It is a great way to check in with someone. Even though I’ve become quite comfortable texting, I still feel like I am in an episode of Lost in Space. When I was in the 4th grade we used to get Weekly Reader Magazines. We could hardly wait to open them up because they had so many neat facts in them. I remember reading that some day we would have phones built into our cars and they would also make them small enough to put in our pockets with no wires. Everyone in my class was skeptical; we never thought we would live long enough to see something like that. But there it was… a text message from my friend Vikki Sapp.
You may remember Vikki Sapp from one of our earlier newsletters this year. Vikki won our hearts when she spoke at the Waco City Council Meeting back in March. She continues to inspire us as she struggles to overcome many challenges in life. Some of these challenges include the abuse she endured as a young child, as well as witnessing her father gun down her mother at a very young age. Vikki has lost siblings and witnessed more violence in her childhood than I have seen in all my 50 years and yet she always has a smile on her face. Vikki survives on about $530 a month. “The Lord has put some good people in my path,” she says. Since March, after getting to know Vikki, her landlord reduced her rent from $450 to $250 a month in an effort to help her remain housed. Navigating her way through Waco is quite a challenge for Vikki because she doesn’t have a car and couldn’t afford bus passes. Vikki was aware she could qualify for discounted bus passes because of her disability but she said she gave up trying because the system was too hard. With the help and guidance of others that have been put in her path, Vikki now receives discounted monthly bus passes. Vikki gets about $200 a month for food stamps and she even found a cell phone she can use to stay in touch with all of us for about $40 a month. Vikki is a role model for me on how to survive on less and remain positive.
Vikki still has not been able to find a job. It’s hard to get someone to give you a chance when you’ve served in jail like Vikki has. She doesn’t blame people for being scared. “I wouldn’t hire the person I used to be either. I was scary,” she recalls as she pulls out her old prison ID to show me her picture. To me, the person in the photo looks nothing like the Vikki I know now. She tells me she doesn’t recognize herself either, but it’s a strong reminder of how drugs overtook her life.
Vikki’s path has lead her to another group of friends and support, this time in the form of a local agency called Christian Women’s Job Corp. CWJC is a local agency that helps women gain job and life skills that will enable them to improve their quality of life. Vikki is part of their 13 week course where she is learning new skills side by side with other women who are learning to love themselves again. She is learning things like typing and interviewing for a job, as well as classes on things like boundaries and organization. She is also receiving mentorship from other women in our community. Everyday she sends me a text to let me know how she is doing. I love seeing texts on my phone like “I love CWJC!” CWJC is an agency that gives women just like Vikki a second chance.
“I love it, g food, g friends, helpful classes and prayers….its GREAT! C U later.”
If you would like more information about Christian Women’s Job Corp, DARRS or MHMR’s Path programs please see the following links.
The below poem, written by Vikki was published in our first story. Vikki is truly starting to soar.
“Take Flight” - By Vikki Sapp
Take flight and start to fly
Spread your wings far and wide
Let yourself go and start to soar
So you will fly for ever more
Start to feel the wind in your face
I will take you to another place
Wait and see just where you land
I will deliver you to My healing hands
Where I will keep you safe from harm
And embrace you with My loving arms
And when you are ready to take this flight
I’ll bless your heart every night
So come fly to Me so you can feel
The ultimate love of God that’s real
S.O.A.R. (SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery) training was held this past week and was offered at no charge through HUD Technical Assistance and the Texas Homeless Network (THN). About 20 different agencies from the surrounding regional area from Waco to Killeen, took advantage of this training, sharing knowledge and experience. Our own Vikki Sapp who is currently receiving disability benefits herself also attended and commented, ”I wanted to learn more about the system and also be able to share some of the hurdles I had to overcome in receiving these benefits myself."
Lory Latimer from Compassion Ministries shares more about the training. “The focus of the training was to provide those working with the Homeless population the knowledge to assist individuals through the application and disability determination process for SSI and SSDI. The curriculum used was called "Stepping Stones to Recovery". The path to recovery can be extraordinarily challenging for individuals who are constantly struggling to meet basic needs for food, shelter and health care. Those attending training learned information about eligibility requirements, limitations, interviewing techniques, writing descriptions of functioning status, and collecting medical evidence for the applicant. A local representative from the Social Security Office provided invaluable knowledge from a practical standpoint. This was the start of a network in our community to assist the Homeless in this critical area.”
Lindsay Freeman, who is a PATH (Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness) worker with MHMR, also commented, “Before going to the S.O.A.R. Training, the entire SSI/SSDI application process was a complete mystery to me. Whenever my clients would ask for help with their applications, I would just refer them to another agency. Now, just a week after the training, I’ve already begun to assist some of my clients through the SSI/SSDI process. I feel relieved that I finally know what I’m doing and that I can do it efficiently.”
Carmen Ross, also a PATH worker said, “I feel that the training not only provided valuable insight into the social security system, but that the training also provided valuable insight for using the social security application process as a tool for effective engagement and integration of those who are homeless. In addition to this, the training served as another rallying point for providers of services to those who are homeless, so that we are able to better collaborate in the effort to end homelessness in Waco.”
By Rachel Svrchek
When asked to write an article on the City’s Code Enforcement department, I have to admit, I was less than thrilled by the idea. Like many people, I’ve carried the image of unfeeling inspectors getting cheap thrills as they cite Waco residents for code violations.
I thought there must be poor old ladies out there who are getting fined for ridiculously small infractions and not having enough money to pay their bills. What shocked me as I took a deeper look into this Department, was how much heart, team-work, city-wide collaboration and compassion exist within the City’s Code Enforcement.
The City of Waco’s Housing Department works closely with Code Enforcement in several ways. From 1999 until 2008 Code Enforcement received Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funds of over $5 Million dollars for the prevention of slum and blight areas by inspecting occupied and unoccupied structures for minimum housing code compliance. Without these funds, inspectors would be unable to affect such a large portion of the city. Their presence in the community helps us identify areas of need that may qualify for federal funding and new programs. They also often refer residents with code violations to our H.U.D. funded City programs that offer assistance with reconstructing or rehabilitating their homes.
We all benefit from the service of Code Enforcement, even though they are often seen as the “bad guys” and receive very little appreciation. Vicki Halfmann in the Housing Department commented, “It’s amazing how much they really do care! They’ve brought people to our department to get help. They want the city to look nice, but they also really care about people having good housing.”
For Waco residents who care about their neighborhoods, Code Enforcement inspectors are advocates. They are also advocates for renters (which make up about 60% of inspections), providing necessary motivation for landlords to keep homes in good repair. Without someone to enforce city ordinances, unfortunately some residents would not comply, which would affect all of us. In the last 20 years, 1500 demolitions have taken place, an average of 1200 to 1400 lots are mowed every year, homes painted, countless unsightly vehicles removed from yards, etc. Code Enforcement also works closely with the homeless, doing anything possible to help those living on the streets find adequate housing and services. What would our city be like without these services?
Robert Pirelo, Inspections Supervisor and the Code Enforcement team work closely with agencies all over Waco to transform many undesirable situations into positive outcomes. When I spoke with him, he couldn’t stop bragging on just about every agency in town, including almost every City of Waco department that gladly cooperates to do anything possible to help Waco residents. This includes everything from helping residents pay for home repairs to tearing down unsightly buildings to building beneficial new structures. Robert gets excited about “opening doors and offering assistance” to anyone who needs help in our city. There were too many agencies and individuals that Robert wanted to credit to actually mention in this article. What impressed me was his desire to work together and build a team within city organizations, non-profit, government and for-profit alike.
Jeff wall, Director of Housing and Community Development Services cannot say enough good things about Randy Childers, Inspections Manager and Robert Pirelo, Inspections Supervisor. Jeff states, “I have never worked with such cooperative and caring individuals. They are not only professional but are always willing to work with our staff and clients.”
The reason City of Waco employees get excited about community-wide collaboration is because no one entity can do everything. It’s important to note that Code Enforcement is limited in its scope of power and resources. It takes city wide cooperation, including the help of individual volunteers to solve problems. The more we all take ownership for the condition of our city, the better a place Waco will become to live.
Such caring and dedicated leadership and teamwork in our Code Enforcement Department, combined with funding sources from not only the Housing Department but organizations all over Waco, as well as city-wide collaboration between agencies is resulting in a better Waco. Even the neediest areas in Waco are in better condition than many other cities. Many thanks to our City’s Code Enforcement Department for a job well done! Next time I personally think of Code Enforcement, I will have a very different mental picture!
If you would like to volunteer your time and resources to help with projects that will benefit our neighborhoods and those in need, please contact Robert Pirelo at (254) 750-5798.
Permanent Supportive Housing is coming and we need your help!
In December, the Waco City Council accepted the recommendation from the Mayor’s Homelessness Implementation Steering Committee to work with Mercy Housing to put together a funding package for Waco’s first single site, affordable housing with support services apartment complex. One of the first steps is to find a site for the development.
The Housing Sub-Committee of the Homeless Coalition is assembling a list of potentially appropriate sites for review. The following are the basic criteria for sites we will be looking at the first of February. Do you know of a site with:
- Access to an existing publicly maintained street
- Topography: relatively level, with no wetlands and NOT in a 100 year flood plain
- Zoning: appropriate or has the ability to be changed
- Environmental issues: any known environmental issues can be remediated
- Location: near shopping and medical facilities
- Preferably within 5 blocks of public transportation
- Preferably within walking distance to elementary and middle schools
- Neighborhood organization is approachable
- Neighborhood is conducive to raising families
- Size: preferably at least 1 to 2 acres.
- Adaptive re-use of existing building(s): definitely a possibility, but often more expensive
If you know of any properties or current buildings that fit the above description, please contact Housing subcommittee member Tim Holtkamp at Tim@hloan.biz.
- Be sure and look for pictures and stories from Project Homeless Connect in our next newsletter
- January 20th Meeting of Project Homeless Connect Committee (ACTS Christian Fellowship)
- January 21st Meeting of the Homelessness Implementation Steering Committee
- January 22nd Travis County Drug Court in Austin Texas
- January 27th Project Homeless Connect Committee meeting (ACTS Christian Fellowship)
- January 28th Evening Homeless Count begins (outreach in vans to seek out the homeless in encampments etc to connect with services and interview)
- January 29th Project Homeless Connect Day
- February 3rd Debriefing Project Homeless Committee, begin planning next years event
- Child and Family Homelessness Training (Education Service Center-Region 12, Waco)
- February 10th-11th SSI/SSDI Outreach and Recovery (SOAR) training, Waco Transit Conference area
Training Opportunities in Waco:
Child and Family Homelessness:
Schools and Communities Respond to the Challenge
February 3, 2009
Time: 9:00 AM - 4:00PM, Session # 28869
Location: Education Service Center-Region 12, Waco
For more information, contact Marilyn Booth at (254) 297-1135.
SSI/SSDI Outreach and Recovery (SOAR) training
February 10-11, 2009
Location: Waco City Transit 300 S. 8th Street Suite 1000 Waco
For more information please visit the Texas Homeless Network.
No cost to coalition members
By Teri Holtkamp
It’s 32 degrees outside today. Suddenly, I see an all too familiar sight. Warm in my car, and out of the elements, I pull over. Several men are standing around talking. A couple of worn out, tattered and dirty mattresses are covered by a mound of mix matched blankets and coats. I see someone’s feet sticking out from underneath the piles of blankets, a sight that might have otherwise gone un-noticed on any other day.
Several people have passed by and some have stopped. Some are men, some are women. A newer model dodge pickup has just driven off minutes before I pull up. I wonder…”was the man in that truck just checking on everyone like I am, or was he there to offer work to some of these individuals? Or was he pushing drugs?”
“You guys have enough to keep you warm?” I ask. Suddenly one of the bundles moves and a man dressed in fatigues pops up and says. “Yea we’re trying too.” “You guys aren’t sleeping here at night are you?” I ask. “I did!” shouts the same gentleman, as though he is the first to cross a finish line. The others speak up quickly and say, “We didn’t. We’ve been staying at the shelter.” I explain that the Shelter would be much warmer and safer at night and add, “You know City Code Enforcement officers are driving by quite a bit and they can’t continue to let you stay here.” “Why not?” says the same guy now sitting up on the mattress. “It’s what keeps us warm.”
“It’s what keeps us warm.” If I were him I’m sure in that moment I would think, “Gosh! These folks aren’t trying to help! They want me to freeze to death.” He’s trying to survive the best way he knows how. I know that those men and women working in Code Enforcement are some of the most compassionate folks I know. They exhaust every possible solution before they are forced to deal with something that presents a hazard to others.
My husband’s grandmother used to always laugh and tell us that everyone in the world was crazy except for her and me, and sometimes she was worried about me! Some days I wonder how the homeless cope. Do I make things harder, or do I help connect them to services they need? Can I even begin to understand what they have been through or what they are going through? Maybe I am the crazy one trying to explain something that isn’t going to help them in that moment.
How do we improve access to services and housing for our homeless Wacoans? How do we keep those living on the streets and those living in this community safe from disease, drug predators (whose favorites seem to be our youth and most vulnerable homeless) and ensure they receive the services they might need? These are real challenges for our community. These issues are not just a Waco problem but a nationwide problem.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness declared December 1-7, 2008 as National Project Homeless Connect Week. During this national event commissioned by the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, volunteers nationwide joined with nonprofits, corporations, government agencies, faith-based organizations and providers host Project Homeless Connect events that offer a variety of housing and services to people experiencing homelessness. In Waco this event is held every January. The goal of Project Homeless Connect is to bring communities together to create and promote tangible solutions that remedy the homelessness of their neighbors. In support of this initiative, the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition, City of Waco, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and numerous other area agencies have come together to host another local Project Homeless Connect event on January 28, 2009 at Acts Christian Fellowship Church located at 300 South 13th Street.
Project Homeless Connect is designed to transform the despair and immobility of homelessness into the momentum necessary to get into recovery, to seek employment, to access health services and benefits, to reconnect with the community and get off the street. Primary emphasis will be on providing an environment in which all homeless are treated with respect, given support and afforded the opportunity to form ties with peers and volunteers while receiving much needed services. The event is not in itself a solution, but rather, an opportunity to begin the process of regaining self-esteem and hope to build a better future.
If you, your group or church would like to learn more about this opportunity and how you might help please contact Jenny Clines, Director of the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition at 254-722-7644.
These kinds of events are where we can connect the man trying to stay warm under a mound of blankets to the services and the people who can help him end his homelessness and find permanent housing. Please consider joining the Heart of Texas Homeless Coalition and becoming involved today to help fight homelessness.
City Wide Collaboration Prevails Once Again in Waco:
City of Waco 5-Year Consolidated Plan Moves Forward
“We were really impressed with the quality of the relationships between the City's housing staff and the non-profit housing developers in Waco. We detected an interdependency and sense of common purpose between the City and these dynamic and motivated organizations. Our meetings with officials from various City departments further drove home the point that City employees go beyond the normal role of government in facilitating neighborhood revitalization. We witnessed a strong culture of determination, mutual support and communication that is often lacking in government. Virtually everybody we met at City Hall viewed their role as an enabler of private efforts to stabilize neighborhoods.” - Eric Fulmer, Chairman, Mullins and Lonergan Associates, Inc.
Each year the City of Waco receives about $2.6 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for community planning and development programs (Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership Program grant). The City of Waco Housing and Community Development Services Department is in the process of preparing a five-year Consolidated Plan for these community planning and development programs. The plan details how the City will provide decent housing, a suitable living environment, and expand economic opportunities for low- and moderate-income persons.
The second week in March, representatives from numerous local area agencies convened at City Hall for Focus Group meetings. The meetings were facilitated by consultants from Mullins and Lonergan Associate, Inc., who were hired to assist in the formation of the plan. The purpose of these meetings was to gather feedback from a wide spectrum of interested parties within the Waco community.
We were ecstatic at the responsiveness and participation of so many individuals and organizations throughout Waco. The level of willing participation only confirmed more deeply how many people in Waco truly care about our community and are willing to collaborate for the common good. Because of the incredible cooperation, time and energy contributed by members of our community, we feel confident that we are on the right path to ensuring that we accurately prioritize our community’s needs and allocate the grant funds for programs and activities that provide the greatest positive impact on our community.
Thanks to all who participated in these focus group meetings and to those who assisted by submitting surveys! Once again, city wide collaboration prevails throughout Waco and we can be confident of an effective use of our government funding for the benefit of our community!
Hidden Costs of Homeownership
By Christopher Lazaro
I bought my first new car at the tender age of 19. It sounds outrageous now, but my "need" for a car felt legitimate at the time. What I failed to understand, however, was that there were other costs to owning a vehicle than just the car payment and fuel. I was in for a major reality check when I had to sign my first insurance policy—to the tune of $300 a month! Suddenly I didn't love my new wheels quite as much.
For those who own a home, that same shock was probably felt the first time a check was written to cover property taxes or to fix a broken pipe. Quite frankly, homeownership can get expensive. Things break, clog, and crumble. They flood and fall apart. Every uh-oh and oops can spell big bucks that simply cannot be passed off to a landlord.
Yet, homeownership comes with rewards that most will say outweighs renting. Marcus Davilla, a city employee who purchased his first home two years ago, put it this way: “You get a sense that what you’re working hard for is yours. I’m not investing in this property so that someone else can reap the benefits later on. Whether installing a new floor or a new fence, or planting a new tree—even though those things are expensive—I’ll benefit both now and later.”
Both the City of Waco and local not-for-profit builders have been working to keep those hidden costs to a minimum by building homes that are efficient and durable. They are well insulated to keep heating and cooling costs lower than in older homes, and feature windows that work hard to keep the summer sun outside where it belongs. Energy Star rated appliances are also being installed, which use less energy than older models. Homes built as part of the City’s Rehab/Reconstruct program even include faucets and ceiling fans with lifetime warranties for added peace of mind.
If you own a home, you may be wondering just how to prepare for the costs of maintaining it. According to co-author of Home Buying for Dummies, Eric Tyson, homeowners should budget about 1 percent of the price of their home to cover repairs and maintenance each year. For a $107,000 house (the median price for homes sold in Waco during the first quarter of 2010), a little over $1000 should be set aside. Of course, this amount should be expected to increase as the home ages or as you desire to upgrade things like bath fixtures, kitchen countertops, or flooring.
When needs or desires change, homeowners have an opportunity to sell their home for a profit, a benefit that simply cannot be matched by renting—or by buying that must-have new car.
For information on homeownership counseling, please visit the Housing & Community Development site.
By Rachel Svrchek
[All names have been changed to protect the identity of our clients, but their stories are shared with their full permission].
Susanne was referred to our office in great need. Months before, she had lost her job and was struggling with depression due to being unable to find work. Facing eviction for non-payment of rent, and with no friends or family to lean on for support, Susanne was at the end of her rope. She was a hard working woman who had never requested any type of assistance before. She had applied for work at numerous establishments, but no one was hiring. Susanne barely made it to our office, her gas tank running on empty, and was notably distraught about her situation. We met, discussed her housing options, provided not only case management and financial assistance, but hope to keep going. Within a couple of months, Susanne called me to let me know she had found work again. She was excited and hopeful and it was evident that the black cloud had lifted.
Robert came into our office a broken man. He had a successful career at one time in his life, but had made a poor choice that resulted termination of his employment. Over the course of a year, he had liquidated all his assets and spent all his savings and found himself facing homelessness. He had been unable to find work due to the criminal conviction that accompanied his mistake. He was referred by a man at a local agency, and humbled, he contacted our office for help. We met with Robert, provided him with short term case management and financial assistance. Case management included connecting him with other resources in the community; especially those that would help him overcome his employment barriers and obtain steady work. We kept in touch on a regular basis and after several months, a very happy Robert called in, having been hired full-time again. When I spoke to him a few weeks later, he was very pleased with his work, his employer, and was very thankful for all the help that he had received.
Lilly was referred to our office by the local V.A. She was a military veteran, having served our country overseas, and was facing homelessness for non-payment of rent. Lilly lost her job months before and was facing the same challenge in finding work as many of the clients we serve. Behind on her rent, without help, she would soon become homeless. We performed the initial intake and determined that Lilly was eligible for HPRP assistance. Financial assistance and case management were provided that stabilized Lilly as she continued to seek employment. Yet again, not too long after, Lilly was able to secure a full-time job! She is still facing a few challenges that her case worker at the V.A. is faithfully helping her overcome, but she is another client who avoided an episode of homelessness, thanks to the HPRP funding that is now available in our community.
These are just 3 people’s stories, though there are many more. HPRP assistance is enabling Waco residents to receive help before they hit rock bottom. In the past, those in financial crisis (often due to a loss of income or other emergency with no other financial or support resources), would inevitably become homeless. Thanks to the new Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing (HPRP) funding that is available all over America, families facing hard times from the economic conditions of our day are finding relief. This is also good for our economy and our tax-dollars, as the average cost to the community for one homeless individual is nearly $40,000 a year.
What is HPRP?
Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing (HPRP) funds are part of the Recovery Act of 2009. $1.5 billion dollars in HPRP funding has been allocated all over America. This money is designated to help those at risk of becoming homeless, as well as those who have recently become homeless. The City of Waco received a three year grant in the amount of $685,000. The Salvation Army Waco Corp received a two year grant in the amount of $999,980 which will be disbursed with partnering agencies, Caritas of Waco and Catholic Charities of Central Texas (CCCT).
What are eligible HPRP Activities?
HPRP funds can be used to help with short to medium term rental and utility assistance for those who qualify. This may include rental assistance, security deposits, moving costs, hotel/motel vouchers, utility assistance, utility deposits, as well as case management for participants. Case management, which includes helping clients access appropriate resources, such as financial literacy, tenant counseling, and employment opportunities, plays a crucial role in HPRP assistance. Our goal is not to put a band-aid on financial problems, but to explore, discuss, and face the root causes of financial challenges and to provide clients with resources to overcome those challenges.
Who may be eligible?
Those who are facing eviction or have recently become homeless may be eligible if they fall below 50% median income, are renting, and would become homeless if not for this assistance. Other program criteria may apply, depending on the agency that is administering the program.
How do I access HPRP assistance?
The City of Waco is providing HPRP assistance with direct referrals through select agencies. The Salvation Army, located at 4721 West Waco Drive (the old Compass Bookstore), provides HPRP assistance for residents of McLennan County. (Residents of outlying counties should contact Catholic Charities of Central Texas).
In order to help determine assistance eligibility, clients should bring the following for an initial consultation: Current, signed, and complete lease, Eviction notice, Income Documentation (Pay stubs for the last 30 days for everyone in the household, including any SSI/SSDI award letters, Child support/TANF award letters, or proof of any other source of income), Emergency related receipts, Driver’s license and Social security cards for everyone in the household. Eligibility must be verified before assistance may be granted.
Sounding Off on Housing
Housing Highlights sat down with Teri HoltKamp to hear her perspective on the state of housing in Waco. Serving as the Homelessness Administrator for the City of Waco, she certainly knows the challenges involved in finding decent affordable housing that serves the entire community.
During your time in Waco, how have you seen the community’s housing needs evolve?
One of the reasons I began working for the City was from my experience working on one of the commissioned boards that the City facilitated. During that time I was amazed at how City government worked to encourage public involvement in the development and implementation process. The City facilitates these meetings and lists proposals and projects as a response to issues from these consultations. This “viewpoint” is not socially, economically or racially charged. It is community charged, diverse as the neighborhoods from North, South, East and West. The evolvement to me has been in the form of the City moving forward to undertake projects and activities using the skills and resources of our local organizations, individuals living and working within Waco, neighboring Churches and non-profit community. Waco has listened and, as a result, neighborhoods are being rebuilt and reshaped. Not in a way that promotes gentrification, but rather old and new, young and old, middle and low income individuals and families living together, keeping the history of the neighborhood while making improvements so those who have vested their lives in a neighborhood can continue to live safely and affordably. For some examples of Waco collaborations, look at agencies changing lives and helping improve neighborhoods, like the Waco CDC, Habitat and NeighborWorks—just to name a few—that are making real change.
What do you think is the key to keeping that evolution moving forward in the future?
Keeping enough safe affordable housing is also keeping a community healthy. The research is done and follow-up is continued, and just like the old adage says, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Continued research and keeping updated data on old housing stock as well as projections on what will be needed in the future is key. I’m a baby-boomer and as I get older you will see the needs of housing evolve again and we are preparing for that. Some will downscale for bathrooms and kitchens that accommodate ailing bodies; others will need repairs on a strict budget; and, new growth will mean more families and children. Everyone needs safe affordable housing whether you are homeless, or beginning a family. As money gets tighter and the needs are great, collaborating will become even more important between City, County and State to ensure housing in Waco continues to evolve in the right direction.
The new growth you mentioned seems to be something we’re hearing about again and again in Waco. Where do you see that growth happening?
Well, we are already seeing some of that new growth downtown with the addition of the new Heritage Quarters, Austin Avenue Flats and the new Waco High Lofts. Waco CDC continues to revitalize the targeted area of Colcord to 18th and the [Brazos] River and NeighborWorks is continuing to survey and work in the East Waco Neighborhood. Waco is growing. When the people come, more businesses sprout up and that’s always good for Waco.
Can you describe what you see as barriers that may work to stop the growth we’re seeing? And how might you suggest overcoming those barriers?
Lack of jobs, lack of industry in central areas and a lack in trained workforce. You must have new industry and commerce, as these help to reduce rates of unemployment in central cities and also strengthen the city tax base. They also have some multiplying effect on income. If you want to have increased industry in your central cities you must also have land available to bring industry, land that can be as competitive in price as outlining areas and in large enough areas for expansions. This can be quite a challenge in urban development and is one reason that more industry finds its way to suburban areas. As industry grows we must also increase the demand for skilled and professional labor. This is one area that the Education Alliance is already looking at and planning for the future.
So, you’re saying that education is a major factor in the growth of our city. Is that right?
Education is definitely the baseline. According to our 2000 census, only 71.6% of Wacoans 25 and older were high school graduates. 18.6% of persons 25 or older hold a bachelors degree or higher. If you want to bring in the industry you must have a skilled workforce.
By Christopher Lazaro
A home recently completed by Waco Habitat for Humanity achieved a level of energy efficiency that few homes in any price range can boast. The nonprofit builder earned its first 5-star Energy Star rating for the 2-bedroom home on Carver Avenue in East Waco, making it a model of energy efficiency for the community.
Using building methods that surpass the required building code, such as spray foam insulation and upgraded heating/air conditioning, the residents of this and other Habitat houses can expect low utility bills and easy maintenance.
This achievement is just the beginning for Habitat. In conjunction with Walmart, they officially launched their Green Build Initiative on May 7, funded by a $63,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation. Together they hope to make green improvements to the next 10 homes they build, all in an effort to reduce homeowners’ carbon footprint as well as their electric bills. Carlos Lopez, Market Manager for Walmart #76 expressed his pride in the initiative at the launch event. “We’re very focused on making [Waco] a better and more efficient place to live,” he said. Scott Connell of the Waco Chamber of Commerce, another green pioneer in Waco, also attended the event to show their support.
Through the Green Build Initiative, Waco Habitat for Humanity will test alternative building methods that decrease material use and reduce energy consumption. The Walmart grant will also help fund the installation of energy data loggers for each of the homes, which will analyze the electricity used to run each household. The data will be used to determine how to make future Habitat homes more efficient, even as Energy Star criteria grow more and more stringent. “We want the highest rating possible on all of our homes,” Waco Habitat Executive Director John Alexander said with resolve. This partnership with Walmart could be that push to get them to their goal.
To learn more about the Green Build Initiative and other Waco Habitat for Humanity programs, visit their website at http://www.wacohabitat.org.
By Christopher Lazaro
Each month, Josh Lawson and a dedicated team of members at Antioch Community Church march into the local neighborhood with an arsenal of paintbrushes, shovels, and lawnmowers to restore beauty and hope to a once-dangerous area.
The Come Together Work Day, held on the second Saturday of each month, is part of a holistic neighborhood revitalization strategy that seeks to empower local residents to take ownership of their homes, and more importantly, their lives. Lawson, Director of Financial Restoration Ministries for Antioch, believes that developing relationships with the residents is the key to sustainable change on these streets. “We believe in serving practically, both in word and in deed,” he added.
On a typical work day, volunteer crews of 30 to 50 people jump in by painting houses, cutting grass, picking up trash in alleyways, even unburying sidewalks that had been completely covered by grass. The first work day took place last November on the 1800 and 1900 blocks of Sanger Avenue in the Sanger Heights Neighborhood, and they eventually moved their way up to 25th Street. This past Saturday they headed over to 20th and Fort, and will eventually work on every block in their target area, which covers Waco Drive to Bosque Boulevard, from 18th to 25th Streets. Each work day ends in a block party at which neighbors gather over lunch and discuss their vision for the neighborhood.
In fact, the vision of neighborhood residents is a major factor in the revitalization of the area, and one that sets it apart from other clean-up projects. “We want to impart value back into the neighborhood and work with the neighbors to see the neighborhood revived,” Lawson said. So what have the neighbors envisioned for their area? With speeding and a lack of youth activities being the issues most mentioned by neighbors, they foresee additional sidewalks, stop signs, and street lights being installed as a practical first step.
When asked about the future of Come Together, Lawson expressed a desire to see both churches and local businesses join in, not just in their target area but in the rest of Sanger Heights and throughout Waco. In the end, though, he believes that lasting change will only happen when the community believes they can do it themselves. “It’s not about the church doing it all, but the neighbors and local businesses owning the process,” he added.
For more information, please contact Josh Lawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Christopher Lazaro
Did you know that those blue fiberglass filters that are ubiquitous in heating & air conditioning systems do not actually filter the air you breathe? The throw-away filters are really only designed to keep dust and debris from clogging an HVAC system.
If you want to improve the quality of your indoor air, which the EPA estimates is typically two to five times more polluted than outdoor air, consider replacing your filter with a higher-efficiency pleated filter. These filters, readily available at hardware stores and big box retailers, are far better at removing pollen, bacteria, pet dander, and other small particles.
The performance of these filters is measured based on the size of particles that are able to pass through the filter fabric. The resulting score is its Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, or MERV. The higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter is at removing particles from the air. Most experts will recommend using filters in your home with a MERV 8 rating or higher, depending on your needs.
One caveat, however, is that the most readily available brand of filters, Filtrete® by 3M, reports their filter performance on what is called the Microparticle Performance Rating (MPR). Their available filters range from an MPR of 300 to 2200, with a 600 MPR being the rough equivalent to a MERV 8 filter.
Do you remember the last time you replaced your HVAC filter? If not, that probably means it has been too long. Just be sure to take note of your filter measurements, as there are a wide variety of sizes available. And, before the higher filter cost scares you, remember that the higher efficiency filters only need to be replaced about every three months, unlike the 30-day filters you may be used to.
By Christopher Lazaro
With the oil crisis in the Gulf of Mexico showing no signs of slowing down after two months, many are left wondering what the effects of this disaster might have on our lives and our environment. So far, up to 175 million gallons of oil are estimated to have spilled into gulf waters so far, washing up onto beaches, killing wildlife, and wreaking havoc on the local tourism and seafood industries.
If nothing else, the current situation should remind us that oil as a source of energy is volatile. Though we rely on it to fuel our cars and our buildings, it may not always be affordable to do so. In fact, a 2004 report by the Energy Information Administration shows that crude oil production will likely peak during this century, indicating a need to pursue other sources of energy as oil prices continue to escalate.
The most salient examples of alternative energy in today’s market are solar and wind power. They are the most glamorous displays of green energy production, and thus, the most popular. We have seen examples of rooftops covered in photovoltaic (PV) panels as well as rolling hills lined with wind turbines. Yet, other sources of renewable energy are growing in favor, including ocean and hydropower, geothermal systems, and biofuels. And, with the current Administration’s emphasis on alternative energy, innovations in this sector are expected to grow at unimaginable rates.
The greatest challenge in employing alternate energy sources in affordable housing, however, is cost. The price of installing PV panels in low-cost housing remains prohibitive for many builders, even with generous government incentives. Although, as prices for solar panels (and other power sources) become more competitive, affordable housing is arguably where alternative energy should first become the norm.
Consider this: smaller buildings, by nature, require less energy to operate than larger ones, assuming similar construction techniques. When coupled with other green building practices, such as advanced framing, spray foam insulation, and orienting buildings and wall openings to take advantage of climate conditions, the energy savings are even greater. Because affordable homes are typically smaller, these techniques can be most easily applied to realize the savings.
Habitat Metro Denver, for example, has taken their commitment to affordable housing and combined it with a dogged pursuit toward energy efficiency. Partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Habitat created a series of Energy Demonstration Homes designed as models of efficiency, applying PV panels and solar water heating to a home built tightly to minimize air leakage. Energy savings of the demo homes were measured at more than 60 percent, compared with standard homes of similar size.
Until alternate sources of energy become more affordable, both financially and politically, there are ways in which we can reevaluate the way we use energy today. Calculating your carbon footprint on one of many free online calculators is a good way to assess your own impact on the environment. The calculators measure carbon dioxide output by information users provide about their home, driving habits, and travel. I decided to use The Nature Conservancy’s calculator and was surprised by my result: 37 metric tons of carbon dioxide, significantly higher than the carbon footprint for the average U.S. citizen. It appears that I, too, have a long way to go in curbing energy use.
Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is a daunting task, but it can be accomplished incrementally, by taking the following steps:
- Utilize public transit at least occasionally, or ride a bicycle to work.
- Buy locally grown foods or plant your own garden.
- Make adjustments to your home so that it requires less of your heating and air conditioning systems.
- Minimize the use of petroleum-based products such as wax candles, vinyl flooring, plastic bags, Styrofoam, synthetic rubber, and certain cosmetics and medications.
- Begin composting food scraps and yard waste.
- Downsize to one vehicle or choose not to own a vehicle at all.
- Live in homes only as big as necessary for everyday life.
- Live close to your work, such as in a downtown area.
- Only buy products sourced and manufactured using a Cradle-to-Cradle approach (meaning that the manufacturing of a product is minimally invasive on the environment, the product lifespan is as long as possible, and its disposal results either in recycling or minimal damage to the environment).
What is Waco doing to re-think energy use? The City’s Housing & Community Development Department recently revised the specifications it uses to build homes as part of its Rehab/Reconstruct program. The changes not only help to minimize the impact that new home construction has on the environment, but are expected to reduce energy bills for the homeowner considerably. The City’s affordable new home to begin construction in July will apply the following new standards:
- Concrete in the foundation and driveway will contain recycled content.
- Wood used in framing, trim, and cabinetry will come from sustainable sources.
- Insulation will be a spray foam, increasing the R-value of the home.
- The plumbing system is being redesigned to minimize heat loss from the water heater.
- Plumbing fixtures will meet EPA Watersense guidelines, reducing the home’s water consumption.
- Energy Star rated ceiling fans and windows will be installed alongside Energy Star appliances.
- All light fixtures will contain compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs.
- All paints and adhesives will contain low VOCs, improving indoor air quality.
- Interior doors will be free of added formaldehyde.
- All flooring materials will be natural or Greenguard certified for improved air quality.
- Recycling receptacles will be installed on the construction site to minimize waste entering the landfill.
By Kevin Allen
Serving as a VISTA is a unique learning experience. Addressing the different challenges presented by building the capacity of a functioning organization that is led by volunteers, combined with adapting to a shared living environment, requires constant creativity. It also requires frequently seeking the advice of experts. Sometimes, that results in identifying highly effective techniques.
I recently e-mailed Dr. Fred Childs for suggestions on how to maximize the impact of a public relations campaign. In part, he responded, "I would propose using the Kaizen (and also Six Sigma) concept of listening to the voice of the customer, and work back from that."
According to Wikipedia, Kaizen is a Japanese term that means improvement. It can be used in a variety of fields and settings. An organization might choose to use suggestions, small groups, large groups, or individual specialists to identify opportunities for improvement.
Six Sigma is a quality management term that indicates a quality of 3.4 defects per million opportunities. What it refers to is correcting for potential errors to a point that is 6 standard deviations from normal. In comparison, One Sigma corrects for potential errors only one standard deviation from normal and has a quality level of 691,462 defects per million opportunities. A Three Sigma approach has a quality level of 66,807 defects per million opportunities.
To understand how the concept of listening to the voice of the customer is being applied in Waco, I interviewed Baylor's Director of Business Affairs, Rosemary Townsend.
Aside from being the director of Baylor University Campus Kitchen (BUCK), Rosemary is also the director of Waco's only Open Table program. It is one of only two “tables” in Texas, and is operated through St. Paul's Episcopal Church.
"Open Table is important because it helps people develop their own strategy to exit poverty into self-sustainability," Townsend stated. "There is a huge portion of the population that can become self-sustaining tax-payers."
Open Table uses Kaizen, listens to the voice of the customer (VoC), and provides the nearest example to Six Sigma provision of services I have been able to identify. While assisting Open Table's first client, the founder and CEO, Jon Katov, led a group of volunteer advisors to write and implement a customized LifePlan for the client's life. In total, 10 to 12 volunteers with expertise in specific areas join forces for about a year to guide one family out of poverty.
Townsend describes the experience as one that changes people dramatically--not just the recipient of services, but also the perspectives of all table participants. Open Table volunteers see the many challenges faced by impoverished people up close, and helping overcome those challenges forces volunteers to view poverty from a different perspective. Because the volunteers are actively involved and personally committed to the success of the client, processes are constantly evaluated--as is proposed in Kaizen. The only one with veto power is the client, which empowers the voice of the customer. Solutions are proposed and discussed by the entire board, greatly reducing the likelihood of a missed opportunity--as is the goal of Six Sigma.
The result is a powerful set of outcomes. According to Townsend, Waco's first Open Table resulted in a person that went from being supported by society to one that contributes to society and has a heart for service. When the client entered the program, she was nearing the end of her employment, had no driver’s license, had no car, had many health and legal issues, was displaced from her home, and had difficulty obtaining employment because of criminal history. Today, that same individual's health and legal issues have been corrected. She has a stable job. She has a driver's license and a car, and she has bought a house.
Imagine the impact when implemented across an entire community. According to Open Table's website, Kaizen is also being implemented to the organization's capacity to do just that. The website states, "Open Table's Neighborhood Roots System (NRS) equips and mentors faith communities to develop and implement business plans to revitalize their neighborhoods. Piloted in South Phoenix, the NRS unites faith community assets with collaborative partners who provide volunteers, intellectual capital, and networking for resources required for business plan implementation. While in the earliest stages of development and phased rollout, the NRS is already impacting the lives of families in poverty in South Phoenix."
For more information, please visit the websites below:
Six Sigma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Sigma)
Open Table (http://www.theopentable.org)
Housing Highlights "Viewpoint":
Chris McGowan is not only the Director of Urban Development for the Greater Waco Chamber, he is a passionate spokesperson for all things Downtown. Housing Highlights tapped into that enthusiasm to get his perspective on Waco’s housing needs and opportunities.
HH: Can you describe what you believe are the biggest housing needs in Waco?
CM: I think there are several needs. As it relates to downtown and urban infill [development], the Greater Downtown Master Plan demonstrates a market demand for between 150-200 new residential units per year; that demand is approximately 60% rental to 40% for sale, according to the analysis, so I think new rental and for sale housing in our city center is a big need, which will go a long way toward helping us achieve our vision of a vibrant and sustainable city.
I also believe we need to take a look and how we meet the needs of our low-income residents in this community. Providing subsidized housing in large concentrated developments creates an inhospitable environment, and I believe that by focusing our low income housing strategies and efforts more on mixed-income housing, we will see better results. Even the federal government recognizes that this strategy is outmoded and ineffective. As quoted from the HUD website:
“Most housing professionals agree that concentrating assisted-housing for low- and very low-income Americans in dense, urban areas is not an effective use of scarce affordable housing resources. Over the past decade, professionals in the affordable housing industry have turned increasingly to mixed-income housing as an alternative to traditional assisted-housing initiatives. Mixed-income housing is an attractive option because, in addition to creating housing units for occupancy by low-income households, it also contributes to the diversity and stability of American communities.”
(For more info this is a great read http://www.hud.gov/offices/cpd/affordablehousing/library/modelguides/2004/200315.pdf
Finally, I believe that we as a community have a responsibility to be good stewards of our natural resources, and exploring ways to do that through our built environment is something that I’m pretty passionate about. Maximizing our capacity as a community to provide resources to our citizenry while minimizing the footprint we consume is vital to our efficiency and effectiveness-- particularly as it relates to long term economic, environmental, and even physical health.
HH: Up to 200 new housing units per year is quite a number. How might we achieve that level of development in Downtown?
CM: We added somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 new residents to downtown Waco last year and I expect that trend to continue if we can supply the product.
Across the country demographic trends are shifting that support this demand. Those national demographic trends are consistent in Waco. One and two person households are on the rise, primarily due to the Baby Boom. Highest growing segments of the population are empty nesters and young professionals, which are your top consumers of urban residential products. Add to that trend that Greater Downtown Waco has [Texas’] largest private university within its boundaries and 2 other colleges nearby (almost 30,000 students within 5 minutes of downtown), and you can see the market demand. At this point most of the housing stock in the Greater Downtown area is aging or substandard, so once that demand is recognized by the development community (and I think they are beginning to see the potential today), [the housing supply will follow].
Also, I think those numbers become much less daunting when you think about it in terms of greater downtown, which is a about a 7.5 square mile area that includes the neighborhoods surrounding downtown rather than just the Central Business District. We have lots of room to grow and plenty of opportunity in terms of vacant or underutilized space to meet the demand.
HH: You mentioned the importance of mixing incomes as a way to integrate affordable housing into the larger community. How would you define mixed-income housing, and can you think of examples (either in Waco or elsewhere) where the concept has been successfully executed?
CM: By mixed income I mean offering a range of products that are affordable by a range of people who live a range of lifestyles. I prefer to think of it as more a matter of choice and options. In my experience and research I have found that vibrant urban neighborhoods are often characterized by their diversity, primarily their diversity in housing choice. Offering different types of products at different rates, including some subsidized and affordable housing, helps us create the 18-hour environment we hope to achieve in urban areas. By 18-hour environment, I mean creating a place or neighborhood that is almost self-contained in the sense that people can live, work and recreate there, and be less dependent on their cars. This isn’t possible if the residential products aren’t diverse. The CEO of one of our large businesses downtown, a grad student at Baylor, an employee at the city housing department and a middle school teacher probably aren’t going to have the same housing needs or budgets, but we’d like each of them to have an opportunity to live downtown if they choose. Someone once told me that Downtown is everybody’s neighborhood and we certainly want that to be reflected in the residential products that are offered here.
The other side of that relates to what I mentioned earlier, which is all the research that speaks to the impacts on those in poverty that live in neighborhoods of diverse incomes and benefit from mixed-income approaches to affordable housing. I am by no means an expert in that field, but have seen successful initiatives in several cities I’ve visited, such as Atlanta; Chattanooga, Tennessee; Charleston, South Carolina; and, even right here in Greater Downtown Waco with the fantastic work of organizations such as NeighborWorks and Waco CDC.
HH: Earlier, you brought up the importance of pursuing sustainability as it relates to the way we develop our city and its housing. What do you imagine a greener Waco to look like, and how might it function?
CM: To me, sustainability starts with a more compact development pattern. Current population projections suggest that Texas will grow by 15 to 20 million residents in the next four decades. While not all of that growth will occur in Central Texas, the Greater Waco area can conservatively expect to gain between 100,000 and 150,000 new residents.
Following our traditional suburban development pattern, and a historically sprawling metropolitan population density, Waco stands to lose from 60 to 85 square miles of green space to new development over the next 40 years. The implications of a continued sprawling development pattern have profound impacts on the environment. As population increases, naturally the intensity of our land use increases, creating more impervious surfaces (roofs, streets, concrete and the compacted soils in our lawns that don’t allow water to percolate down into the ground) that ultimately diminish the quality of the water in area rivers, streams and lakes.
Recent research from the Center for Watershed Protection suggests that a 25 percent impervious cover in a watershed produces enough runoff to severely impact stream quality. In a natural or undeveloped environment, about 50 percent of rainfall percolates into the ground, 40 percent is consumed by evaporation and transpiration and about 10 percent runs off, eventually making its way to water bodies. In a largely impervious or developed environment, the opposite is true: about 15 percent percolates and 55 percent runs off. One other problem with storm water runoff in a developed environment is that it flows very fast, which contributes to large peak flows and flooding. Storm water runoff also collects pollutants such as heavy metals, oils, grease, pesticides, fertilizers and other toxic substances along the way and carries them into rivers and lakes via the drainage system. This is known as nonpoint source pollution.
Requiring all new development to reduce its environmental impact by adhering to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building practices and/or implementing high-tech bio-retention facilities or other Low Impact Development (LID) technologies can minimize the impacts of growth and reduce nonpoint source pollution, but there’s an even easier solution.
Concentrating development initiatives in areas where impervious surfaces are already in place can reduce our urban footprint, preserve green space and help maintain a properly functioning natural watershed. A re-energized city center can also reduce vehicle trips which improves air quality and individual physical health. In short, a more compact urban development pattern is arguably the most efficient and effective sustainable practice.
HH: I agree that increasing density is an effective sustainable practice. I recently watched a documentary that described the carbon footprints of New York City residents as being the lowest in the nation, despite the city’s reputation for being a dirty, polluted place. I believe that is a result of the very things you have brought up.
HH: Last question: Aside from the addition of housing, what other specific elements would you say are vital to creating the sustainable, 18-hour urban environment that Waco will hopefully become?
CM: Ultimately, people are what create a vibrant neighborhood, so attracting people--whether working, living, playing, or all of the above--is our priority. It’s important to focus on several things to achieve this. Building on the success of River Square and Austin Avenue as a downtown entertainment district is crucial to getting “eyes on the street” and a sense of activity. For sale and rental housing as well as a strong affordable housing strategy are important as previously discussed. More retail and promoting our tourist opportunities and hospitality can be a great driver of visitors to the area. And finally, we have to create a stronger office market if we want to attract higher paying professional services jobs and be in a position to attract and retain young talent here in Waco.
You can learn more about Downtown Waco and the Chamber’s Urban Development Department by visiting and becoming a friend at www.1000friendsofwaco.com or by following them on twitter at www.twitter.com/1000friendswaco.
By Christopher Lazaro
If you've ever set foot in a neighborhood that gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling, you may have wondered why some communities have it while others don’t. The reality is that great places don’t just happen by chance. There are, in fact, several concrete principles that make a neighborhood more livable, some of which you can help bring to your own area.
Jay Walljasper’s The Great Neighborhood Book: a Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking, is chock full of ways that ordinary citizens can breathe life back into their communities. Throughout the book he lists simple ways that you and I can improve a place, from simply greeting passersby and spending time outdoors to making small physical changes, such as adding benches along a sidewalk or planting colorful flowers in formerly drab spots. The most important theme the author weaves throughout the book, however, is that collaboration among neighbors is what makes place possible.
So, have communities taken his advice? The Oak Cliff neighborhood in Dallas certainly has. In April, locals proved that the best way to inspire change along one particular street was to show everyone what it could look like; only they made the changes life-sized. In one day, and with just $1000, residents staged temporary businesses, light fixtures and furniture, and spruced up the streetscape with paint and elbow grease to inspire permanent change in their neighborhood. And, despite ordinances that would normally prevent some of their ideas from sticking, City Council worked to come up with funding to turn the staged street into a real street.
Waco has taken note of the success in Dallas as well. The area around 15th & Colcord in North Waco will undergo similar temporary improvements for its own Better Block Project on October 30th, which will take place alongside the Jubilee Music Festival being organized by Mission Waco. According to their Executive Director, Jimmy Dorrell, the project is expected to “bring a level of health back to the place,” through activities, vendors, arts & crafts, and music. Other organizations, including Waco CDC and the City of Waco, are also working to help make the project a success.
Read and watch how the Oak Cliff neighborhood transformed a street here: