Note from by John Ahmann, President & CEO, Westside Future Fund
Thank you to Charlene Crusoe-Ingram, CEO of Meals on Wheels Atlanta for providing this week’s column. Meals on Wheels began from a seed of compassion in the United Kingdom, following World War II, when many had lost their homes and ability to cook. 1954 saw its debut in the United States, starting in Philadelphia, and in 1965 Meal on Wheels Atlanta (MOWA) was founded. Besides serving meals, MOWA also serves human connection to isolated Atlanta seniors via volunteers delivering the meals. Over time, MOWA evolved other programs to serve seniors, such as home repair. Demonstrating the Power of We, MOWA works with other not-for-profit organizations providing home repair to seniors, such as Atlanta Habitat for Humanity and House Proud. As part of her One Atlanta vision, Mayor Bottoms announced in 2018 $8M to support “Heritage Owner-Occupied Rehab Housing Programs” via MOWA and others.
At the most recent Transform Westside Summit, the MOWA shared lessons learned from its innovative home repair services programs, part of a broad effort to support affordable housing for residents living on Westside and throughout Atlanta. The Westside Future Fund is working closely with MOWA, Atlanta Habitat and House Proud to ensure seniors enrolling in the Anti-Tax Displacement Fund also take advantage of these home repair programs. If you missed the presentation, you can watch a recording from our Facebook Livestream. Be sure to join us at the next Transform Westside Summit on Friday, June 7.
Supporting Housing Affordability & Pride in Our Communities
By: Charlene Crusoe-Ingram, CEO, Meals On Wheels Atlanta
“I’m this close to living under the bridge.” That’s how Angela W., 71, described her living conditions to Meals On Wheels Atlanta’s (MOWA) home repair services staff. For years, she’d been living in a house without heat, hot water, a functioning kitchen, or a functioning bathroom.
“Most of our clients are living on Social Security survivor benefits or another fixed income averaging around $1,100 per month,” said Larry Tatz, MOWA’s senior director of operations. “It’s virtually impossible for someone to live on that after they pay for utilities, groceries, and medications.”
While best known for our home-delivered meals program, Meals On Wheels Atlanta began offering home repair services in 2002, in response to the repair needs that volunteers would often report to our staff after visiting clients’ homes to deliver meals. The program provides major and minor repairs—using both our own staff technicians and external contractors—to ensure our clients’ homes are safe, accessible, warm, and dry.
Since 2017, MOWA has partnered with Invest Atlanta, the City of Atlanta’s Economic Development Authority, on a special initiative called the Heritage Owner-Occupied Rehab program, which rehabilitates homes that are owned and occupied by low-income residents in Atlanta neighborhoods. The program provides major plumbing and electrical repairs, mold and asbestos abatement, roof replacements, and other critical repairs. After MOWA enrolled Angela in the program, she no longer had to worry about losing her home: “She was living in a house that should’ve been condemned,” said Mr. Tatz. “Now she’s living securely, comfortably, and with dignity.”
Much of our partnership with Invest Atlanta focuses on Atlanta’s Historic Westside, where as many as 43% of residents live below the poverty level and 35% of homes are in poor or dilapidated condition (Westside Future Fund, 2016). The goal of our work is to begin stabilizing neighborhoods house-by-house and supporting longtime residents—in particular, seniors with aging homes and fixed incomes—to continue living in the communities that they have called home for much or all of their lives.
In addition to this collaboration with Invest Atlanta, Meals On Wheels Atlanta secured a commitment from The Home Depot Foundation—which is the longtime sponsor of our home repair program for senior veterans—to support the home repair work for Westside residents as well. We were finding that some of our clients’ homes were in need of more significant repairs to address critical health and life safety issues, but the costs of these repairs can add up quickly. So The Home Depot Foundation provided additional funding so that we could complete these more extensive renovations and ultimately deliver a more impactful transformation of the clients’ homes.
By the end of 2019, we expect to have completed the rehabilitation of a total of 33 homes on the Westside, allowing families to stay in the neighborhoods to which they are committed and in the homes they cherish. Meals On Wheels Atlanta is proud to be a partner alongside Invest Atlanta and The Home Depot Foundation in the effort to transform the Westside. We have worked hard to listen to the needs of the residents of the Westside community and to forge relationships that are built on trust. We are not just witnesses to the transformation taking place but are active participants in helping to move the needle for a community that is so deserving. And we will be there until the work is done.