"Nancy Welsh believes that BOH's middle-class to lower-class clients should be given a greater array of housing choices than high-rise towers and poor-quality townhouses."This statement underscores one purpose behind Builders of Hope, a North Carolina based non-profit organization that offers simple, sustainable strategies for low-cost housing and community building: start small, model the project by doing, partner with local resources, and serve the needs of real people.
Wanda Urbanska, driving force behind the PBS Simple Living series, has produced this inspiring how-to manual that also serves as a history of the project and a biography of the Builders of Hope team. One suspects she had significant input, too, as her writing about it blends with her sojourn in the Raleigh, North Carolina, neighborhoods where BOH has its roots.
Part of the BOH philosophy can be seen in the signs that are put up in front of BOH "rescue homes":
Why demolish? Donate! Many of the BOH houses have been donated, offered back to revitalize older neighborhoods that had been overlooked by progress, deemed too rundown to improve. Nancy Welsh, founder and CEO of BOH, had a different, unconventional and visionary stance: rebuild these old, basically solid homes, using indigenous and volunteer labor, offer them for occupancy to people who grew up in or near them, people who will have a stake in the rebirth of community.
"One of the most visible and transformational components of the Builders of Hope is its signature Hope Works work-mentor program, in which those with barriers to employment--the homeless, ex-offenders and troubled youth--are offered the chance to gain on-the-job-skills in the field of green renovation." The work-mentees, who would face an extreme challenge to obtaining a job in the current market, gain skills, discipline and a job reference, and some wind up with fulltime jobs for BOH. Welsh says, "Saving a house is a wonderful thing, but how can it compare to saving a life?" The mentees are treated like "real employees" for the six months that they are in training with BOH: they are paid, given sick leave, and are eligible for merit raises. They are also held strictly to rules for schedule and conduct at work, just like "regular employees."
BOH is different in its scope and purpose from "poverty" housing projects that offer living space for people whose expenses are government-subsidized. It is geared to lower and middle class householders who are working hard but struggling financially. Integral to this goal is that of green energy (“greenovation”): every house remodeled by Builders of Hope is converted to green energy with a guaranteed ceiling on energy costs for the first two years of occupancy. Features that can be included in BOH homes include new heating/AC systems, new insulation, new Energy Star appliances, refinished original hardwood flooring, and drought-tolerant landscaping. Thus the new resident is celebrating the history of the original home, investing in its future and that of the community, and promoting the idea of energy sustainability.
Partnerships are also an essential part of the BOH vision. One example is the HUD-EPA-DOT collaboration, in which transportation needs, low cost, and environmental sensitivity are all taken into account in the transformation process. BOH seeks to partner with local entrepreneurs, construction companies, educational institutions, and veteran services, all in the name of creating housing tailored to individual needs, not forced on, but welcomed by, the residents.
BOH is no longer situated only in North Carolina. It has branches in New Orleans and Dallas, changing lives and neighborhoods a house at a time.