Green Block Build Collaborative Gives Mantua Block a Sustainable Facelift

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Saturday, March 31, 2012 was a day of hard work, good food, and community building for the residents of the 3800 block of Aspen Street. The Green Block Build Collaborative, with support from over 300 volunteers, provided critical repairs and energy efficiency upgrades to 20 homes on the block, as well as block-wide greening and beautification, and a host of other services. The program also educated homeowners and connected them with programs and resources to make their homes healthier and more energy efficient.

This was the first of five Green Block Parties in 2012, that aim to bring a comprehensive set of services to organized blocks, helping residents transition to a cleaner, greener, healthier, and more financially stable future.

The Green Block Build Program developed from LISC’s Sustainable Communities Initiative in West Philadelphia (SCI-West), a comprehensive community development effort focused on housing, income and employment, economic opportunity, education, and health. SCI-West partners convened the Green Block Build Collaborative, a coalition of community organizations including Philadelphia LISC, Rebuilding Together Philadelphia, The Partnership CDC, People’s Emergency Center, and a wide variety of other community partners. Its work is supported by Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Photo by Chris Kendig

The Green Block Build strategy is to improve the health and wealth of low-income households, block-by-block, house-by-house by building on the strengths of each partner organization. Participating blocks will receive education and a suite of products and services designed to help each participant transition to a healthier life and home.

“You don’t know what this project has done for me,” said Barbara Hall captain of the 3800 block of Aspen Street on Saturday. “I had given up hope.” Several years ago, Hall paid a roofer to install a new roof on the home. The first time it rained, she realized that the roofer had taken advantage of her; the leaky roof caused significant water damage throughout the home, and her basement and kitchen were crumbling around her.

Hall, who has lived on the 3800 block of Aspen Street for 67 years, is hopeful that she will be able to pass her home to her children and grandchildren. “I want it to be a family home for another 67 years,” she said.

Photo by Chris Kendig

The Green Block Party idea, developed by the Partnership CDC, grew out of a desire to address the interrelated issues of poverty and sustainability. Low-income households in the U.S. spend 17% of income on energy bills, 10% higher than the national average. Simple home weatherization improvements can dramatically reduce this number, saving low-income families money while reducing their environmental impact. The concept has grown into the full Green Block Build Program, which takes the fundamental components of the Green Block Party, and integrates critical home repairs from Rebuilding Together Philadelphia that further help homeowners meet these goals.

Each home on the block received multiple critical repairs, energy efficiency upgrades, energy assessments, education around home health issues, and financial education. Homeowners also received a bag of local groceries from the West Philadelphia Fresh Food Hub, which visited the block on Saturday.

Other home improvements include the installation of green and cool roofs, rain barrel installation, the removal of allergy and asthma triggers such as mold and dampness, weatherization improvements, and overall greening.

The projects were also tailored to specifically meet the needs of each homeowner. For example, homeowner Charles Clemens with physical handicaps received repairs to his home to make the bathroom, backyard, and other rooms more handicap-accessible. “Financially, I would have never been able to do these repairs,” Clemens explains. “These old houses are hard to keep up. This will help me get around. But the biggest benefit is bringing the value of the property up.”

Each of the community partners in the collaborative is bringing different skills and resources to the program.”One of the key things we were aiming for with this project is showing the amount of impact that each partner organization’s services and efforts could have on a household, on a block, and on a community if they were connected and coordinated,” said Jamie Gauthier, Program Officer at Philadelphia LISC. “We have seen the benefits of collaboration in this community through our SCI-West work, and I am truly excited about the potential of this project.”

Once the renovations are complete, Drexel University will conduct an analysis of the program’s impact, which will help spread this model for improvements and shape the strategic direction of the collaborative.

The collaborative focused its efforts initially in the Mantua community to align itself with the community-driven planning efforts of We Are Mantua! Choice Planning Initiative and the People’s Emergency Center. “The neighborhood is getting better,” said Gloria Jones, a resident on the block for over 25 years. “This project came at a wonderful time. We want the children to have a better place to live.”

Overall, homeowners are positive in recognizing the benefits of different resources and services of the program. Summing up her view of the project, resident Patricia Rozier said: “These are things that can help you in the long run. If you’re part of the community and they’re building it up, you can take pride in where you are living… We are going to maintain our block, trust me.”

Photo by Chris Kendig

Photo by Chris Kendig

Photo by Chris Kendig

Photo by Chris Kendig

Read more about the Green Block Build Collaborative Partners.

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