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Rising from the ashes: HomeStart helps senior return to home destroyed by fire


A burned, damaged homeAfter a fire ignited in Evera Moreland's house, she was in danger of becoming homeless. But thanks to assistance from NeighborWorks network member HomeStart, which serves Rockford and Freeport, Illinois, Moreland was able to stay in the home she has owned for years.

The fire caused only minor damage, but Moreland did not have the money needed to fix the major code violations discovered after the fire. A grant from HomeStart allowed her to keep her home and fix the code violations.

HomeStart partners with eight local organizations: the city of Rockford, Winnebago County Health Department, Rockford Housing Authority, the county housing authority, Zion Development, Jeremiah Development, Comprehensive Community Solutions and Pilgrim's Promise. The coalition applied for National Foreclosure Settlement funds and, in 2014, it was awarded $1.4 million to use for single-family, homeowner-occupied rehab. Moreland's home was one of the initial projects completed with these funds. The rehab was started in February 2017 and completed in September.

To alert the community to the resources available, HomeStart uses social media, distributes fliers and works with partners to get the word out, says Sarah Brinkmann, executive director. Moreland was referred from a partner agency.

Repaired home with a front porch and blue paint and white trim

HomeStart decided to concentrate most of its efforts in one neighborhood—Ellis Heights in Rockford, where Moreland lives—to coincide with the city's Choice Neighborhoods planning. Choice Neighborhoods is a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program that supports local strategies to address struggling neighborhoods with distressed public or HUD-assisted housing "through a comprehensive approach to neighborhood transformation." Ellis Heights had been disproportionally hit by the loss of equity after the foreclosure crisis. The older housing stock and lower-income level of the area made it difficult for homeowners to, for example, keep the roofs repaired or meet newer electric codes. Repairing roofs is a significant part of HomeStart's rehab work in the community.

By the end of August, HomeStart officials estimate their organization will have helped 35-40 families in Ellis Heights bring their houses back up to code, as well as increased home equity.
HomeStart continues to work in the area, using community stabilization funds and partnering with the neighborhood association. In addition, with the assistance of neighborhood leaders, HomeStart has been able to fund cleanup efforts in alleys and common spaces, purchase materials for a resident-led job-skills training program focused on home repair, and provide lighting supplies for dark zones on streets and in alleys that create opportunities for negative activity.
"HomeStart saved me from being homeless after a fire," Moreland says. "They came in, qualified me for the rehab program and brought my house up to code. They are great people and have excellent contractors who care about your needs."

For Moreland, the efforts of HomeStart and its partners went beyond making it possible for her to stay in her home. Her house is a gathering place for the community. As a neighborhood leader, Moreland hosts an annual picnic at her house that attracts about 100 guests. When the home's rehab was complete, she was able to host the party again, using the new porch as a stage for residents to perform music.

"If it had not been for this program, I don't know how I would have made it," Moreland adds. "I love the work that was done and if anyone is ever in need of help I always tell them about HomeStart."

Founded in 2013, HomeStart serves a 10-county region in northern Illinois.

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