Karen Chase was driving through a snowstorm in Nevada when the flurry of ideas hit her.
Two years, dozens of meetings and untold amounts of research later, it all came together and was unveiled recently in Gold Beach.
“I thought, ‘How can we do housing and make jobs at the same time?’” said Chase, the regional advisor for the Oregon Housing and Community Service, of her idea. “If we start replacing battered houses, put people in new homes, get people back to work and improve health — it’s a beautiful thing. It blows my mind.”
Thus, the Housing Stock Upgrade Initiative — now called “ReHome Oregon” — was born.
It’s taken the work of folks from the federal to local levels — the USDA Rural Development, Sen. Jeff Merkley, the state HUD agency and energy assistance groups, NeighborWorks Umpqua, Coos-Curry Electric Cooperative, the Oregon Manufactured Homes and Curry County Homebuilders associations and various private manufacturing firms, health organizations and citizens, among others.
The idea caught the eye of state officials and soon qualified for an Oregon Solutions project, becoming the only Solutions idea in the state that received full funding to get started.
County Commissioner David Itzen and Christine Stallard of CCEC worked as the coordinators of the collaboration, which aims to repair, rehabilitate and replace scores of manufactured homes — all the while improving health among citizens and putting people back to work in the process. It’s possible the pilot initiative could expand to the state and national arenas.
With the groundwork in place, ReHome Oregon officials hope to begin the program in January.
For the most part, neighborhoods that are comprised of manufactured homes make great communities, said Annette Klinefelter, who works in health and economic development issues at the local level.
“I didn’t realize how they help people,” she said. “They’re vital to social networks. They’re there if you’re sick and need a soda.”
But Curry County is home to so many manufactured homes — 3,876 according to the county Assessor’s Office — and almost 16 percent, or 604 houses, are in “poor” condition.
Despite this, it’s often best for the entire social system if people can age in place, where they are comfortable with their surroundings and know their neighbors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga., aging in place is defined as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.”
Klinefelter cited an example of a 90-year-old woman who lived in a manufactured home full of mold, with a crumbling foundation and dry rot. The family moved her into an assisted living facility — a much healthier environment — but she steadily declined without her familiar social contacts.
Dilapidated homes are not just those with rickety stairs, rodent populations and leaking windows. Some here have sagging roofs, jerry-rigged electrical lines, contraptions that divert water leaking from the roof into buckets — even one house so saturated with water, the owner developed a rash, then a skin infection that eventually resulted in her having to quit her job and apply for disability benefits.
The resident of one home gains access to their abode by a ladder through a window. A tarp covering part of another man’s home is all that separates him from homelessness.
“I have not talked to one person who lives in a manufactured home who doesn’t have an upper respiratory problem,” Klinefelter said. “With a small investment, the entire burden on the whole system is decreased. We can do better by them.”
Many times, home expenses can be reduced merely by improving weatherization and installing energy saving appliances. Those savings can then be used to buy food and medical necessities, which some people pay for with credit cards.
Other repairs might be more expensive: replacing decks, installing showers and tubs with hand-holds or building a walkway to the front door. The conditions of some homes, however, could require replacement.
County officials, in searching out data about local homes, have met some resistance among homeowners, Itzen said. Much of it is due to the fact they tend to be older and more embarrassed about their situation. Still others dread the perceived cost, noted Betty Tamm of NeighborWorks Umpqua, a nonprofit agency helping with housing needs of residents in Curry, Coos and Douglas Counties.
“Some of them think, ‘I can’t afford it!’” Klinefelter said. “Life hasn’t been very good to some of them, so they think that anything that is this good must be too good to be true. Many times they don’t trust government programs. We can make it in such a way there is no wrong door.”
Data shows that Curry County residents aren’t the healthiest of people in the state, but providing better living environments can dramatically improve that situation, particularly for those in older manufactured homes, Klinefelter said.
The new organization will be managed by NeighborWorks Umpqua in Roseburg, where homeowners can learn if they qualify for loans — many of them at zero-interest rates — for repair, rehabilitation or even replacement of their homes.
Once older homes are identified for such work, the homeowner can apply for a loan and contractors involved in the project are available to do the work.
Counselors will even be available to assist those who are uncomfortable making a transition to a new home.
More information about the program is available at rehomeoregon.org.