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It's Broke, Let's Fix It! Housing Stock Is Aging; Low Income Folks Need Help

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Barbara Norton stands near her damaged roof. The December 4 snowstorm split an A-frame roof that once covered the length of her double wide. She now keeps water out of her bedroom with plastic tarps.

When Sam Rayburn was Speaker Of The House, he was famous for saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

But quality, affordable housing in Rutherford County is apparently a problem that is broken and needs fixing.

Barbara Norton and her son, Brian, are among those folks who need their home fixed, but so are 117 other families here. They need the help of generous givers who have found the faith to help those in need. They need the help of volunteers that have carpentry and other home renovation skills.

Norton's problem is unique. Years ago her double wide was covered with an A-frame roof that ran the length of her dwelling. When snow hit last December, the A-frame split and now hangs precariously off both the front and back of the structure.

"I just need it to come off," Norton said, but a number of people have looked at it. It is a major safety challenge. "I even climbed up there with an electric saw the other day, but it was too much for me. I really need a chainsaw, but a 79-year-old woman with a chainsaw is not a good idea. I only weigh 104 pounds."

Nell Bovender, executive director of Rutherford Housing Partnership, said what Norton faces is both a unique challenge and part of the heartbreak of her job.

"Yes, she needs help," Bovender agrees, "But the situation is dangerous and requires a high level of professional help." If you'd like to help Mrs. Norton, she'd welcome a phone call at 828-245-9027.

And there are those 117 other families appealing for repairs, rewiring, new roofs, wheelchair ramps and a host of other home improvements that RHP tackles on a week-to-week basis. The 117 are on a list maintained by RHP that also includes Norton.

"One of the problems is an aging housing stock," Bovender said. "It's not just a problem here, but across North Carolina. It's not that mill houses were poorly built. Most of them are good houses, but they're aging and that causes lots of needs for repair."

Norton is praying somebody will read this story and come to her aid.

"I believe in prayer. I believe the Lord allows things for a reason. I pray with people all the time. We're blessed that nobody got hurt when this happened. I know the Lord has blessed us." She pointed at her car in the driveway. "A tree fell on that car, but it was not scratched. All the limbs stuck in the ground all around it, but the car was not scratched. The Lord has blessed us."

Part of her prayer life takes place at The Brian Center in Hendersonville where she works two days a week. She is a nurse and at 79 believes it is still important for her to work.

"There is nothing in the Bible about retirement, so I keep working as long as I'm able."

Rutherford Housing Partnership is a 24-year-old nonprofit started by church folks here who saw a need to serve those who are less fortunate. While Habitat for Humanity builds new homes in partnership with the poor and government housing helps many who have low income, RHP fills in the gap where people, especially the elderly, need repairs to stay in their homes.

"It saves the state money to keep people in their homes as long as possible," Bovender said. N.C. Housing Finance is a state agency that gives grants to RHP to do exactly that, keep the low income elderly in their homes as long as possible.

"There is a disconnect. People think decent, basic housing is a right, that people aren't allowed to live like this, and that there are government programs that make sure people have good housing. It just isn't true. We only touch the tip of the iceberg of what is needed. If we are going to repair houses that need it and clean up where old houses have fallen down, it's gonna take lots and lots of money," Bovender said.

.....And how does her church life inform that?

"I don't want to imply that church folks are any better than anybody else, but we are taught through our faith to help the needy. This is the first time in my career that I've been able to see my faith life and my work life are the same. I feel lucky in that. I really think this is God's work."

In the meantime, Barbara Norton is praying at her home on Poor's Ford Road that somebody will see helping her as God's work. RHP is doing the best it can, maybe somebody else is headed her way.

In addition to Bovender, RHP's staff includes project manager Katie Yelton, project associate Annie Blackburn and construction manager Brannon Freeman.

Contact Pat Jobe at patjobe13@gmail.com

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