Making a Bigger Impact Through Community Revitalization Partnerships

March 26, 2024
by Shivanti Kariyawasam, Senior Manager, Programs, Research & Impact at Rebuilding Together National

There is no lack of homes in this country in need of essential repairs. According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, 2.8 million owner-occupied homes met the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of “moderately” or “severely” inadequate in 2021. For decades, Rebuilding Together has helped our neighbors in need by fixing health and safety problems in their homes at no cost. The need doesn’t end there. Neighborhoods need help, too, which is why we developed a community revitalization partnership (CRP) framework for our affiliates. 

Rebuilding Together affiliates use the approach to align with and support community development goals created by residents and other stakeholders for a specific area. By coordinating with other organizations through a multiyear commitment with multiple projects, Rebuilding Together can have a bigger impact in a neighborhood.

In addition to making homes healthier and safer, the approach can include revitalizing neighborhood assets. For example, Rebuilding Together St. Louis worked with the City of St. John’s Public Works Department in 2021 to convert an empty lot into a community garden featuring standard and accessible planting beds. 

This work to strengthen communities, by understanding their needs and goals, comes naturally to Rebuilding Together, because our affiliates have experience collaborating with neighbors and other non-profits and community organizations. Additionally, our affiliates often work in communities requiring a systemic approach to improve the lives of residents, where a legacy of discriminatory housing practices, such as redlining, shaped the neighborhoods. This work involves more than just making home repairs and modifications. It requires a coordinated approach, built on trust, along with a new way to view our impact.

With a long history of making critical repairs and modifications, guided by the Principles of a Healthy Home, our affiliates use a consistent framework to track data for each household served. Community revitalization calls for an additional approach, in understanding how our work connects to a broader housing and community development landscape showing the long-term benefits for our neighbors in need. Often, this approach is recognized in understanding how we work closely with community members to revitalize communities and build relationships. 

With support from Lowe’s, Rebuilding Together developed a pilot study to evaluate the impact of the approach, involving five affiliates that executed projects in 2022, informed by CRP principles. Affiliates in Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay area and St. Louis each repaired six homes. The affiliates also took part in community planning activities, made referrals to other service organizations and applied best practices for equity to improve internal operations. The specific ways affiliates implemented the approach respective of their local communities are highlighted in the neighborhood profiles

Half of the households served had extremely low incomes and a high proportion had residents with a disability. Most homeowners were older adults and a majority identified as Black.

Following the repairs and modifications, Rebuilding Together surveyed the homeowners and evaluated the impact of the work in five areas: safety, physical health, mental health, independence and economic security. Rebuilding Together recently released an evaluation report to share the results. Among the highlights from survey respondents:

  • There was an 86 percent reduction in falls following repairs among the homeowners who reported falling at home before Rebuilding Together made improvements.
  • About 50 percent of homeowners who rated their physical health in one of the lowest categories before repairs reported an improvement afterward. 
  • Two-thirds of homeowners who were nervous or stressed about their home’s condition before repairs reported less frequency of stress after repairs. 
  • People with chronic mobility challenges reported greater confidence in activities of daily living (ADL) following the repairs.
  • More than 25 percent of homeowners reported lower home maintenance costs following repairs and none reported increased costs.
  • After repairs, nearly one-third of homeowners reported a greater likelihood of aging in place. 
  • In terms of community, around 75 percent of respondents reported feeling greater pride in their property following repairs, while nearly one-quarter of homeowners felt more welcomed and included in their neighborhood. 

The results of the pilot study demonstrate the benefits of the CRP approach, from health and safety improvements to community connectedness. As with any pilot study, the evaluation identified areas to improve, too. In the two-year program’s next iteration, focusing on affiliate work in communities of color, Rebuilding Together plans to collect more information, such as qualitative data from neighborhood leaders, affiliate staff members and volunteers, to gain a deeper understanding of the CRP approach and outcomes. This information will give us more insights into how our commitment to safe and healthy housing connects to the broader housing and community development ecosystem.