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Our View: Housing response has many pieces

As Rochester continues to assemble its affordable housing puzzle, it might benefit by picking up a piece from Outreach Pastor Jeff Urban and the congregation at Bear Creek Church.

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Jeff Urban, of Bear Creek Church, helped direct four teams of volunteers participating Saturday in the Litter Bit Better campaign to help residents of Parkside and Oak Terrace mobile home parks clear trash. The volunteers welcomed the sunshine.

As Rochester continues to assemble its affordable housing puzzle, it might benefit by picking up a piece from Outreach Pastor Jeff Urban and the congregation at Bear Creek Church.

For four years, the church has focused its efforts on affordable housing issues, especially the needs of those living in what Urban calls some of the "most challenging housing in town," mobile homes.

Bear Creek partners with other area churches, businesses and individuals to address needs such as broken windows, leaking roofs and, most critically, mold. Projects are referred through word of mouth; school teachers, public health workers and even fellow park residents make referrals.

As an approved nonprofit, Bear Creek gets up to $10,000 in building supplies each month from a large retail chain. Those donations — doors, windows, vanities, flooring, bathtubs and carpet scraps — are mainly discontinued or improperly installed items the store no longer can sell. The church taps its congregation, as well as mobile-home owners, to put those materials to work.

Bear Creek's donated materials and volunteers cut down on the cost of repairs, allowing residents to pay for repairs themselves and become participants, rather than recipients, in the process, which creates an important foundation for a culture of upkeep.

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Their involvement also comes with the benefit of utilizing mobile home residents' creative abilities when it comes to making the most of small spaces.Their efforts restoring trailers while cutting costs in a creative, partnership-driven way illustrate that, sometimes, the best way to fix things is to look around for resources.

"Is it a solution? I think it's one piece of the puzzle," Urban said.

He sees the project as a way to preserve some of Rochester's existing affordable housing units.

"If we have $7,000 to $10,000, we can take an old mobile home, and we can actually clean it up and make it usable for another 20 years. It's really, to me, truly affordable housing," Urban said.

Even completely replacing a mobile home only costs the church $20,000 to $25,000, though in cases of replacement, they often find a used home. Once a home is ready, tenants pay lot rental fees and utilities, which add up to a fraction of rent on apartments considered as affordable housing.

"The folks that we help, for instance, one of them, she didn't qualify for a Habitat For Humanity home because she didn't make enough money," Urban said. "The people that we're working with are people that are really the, sometimes they're the poorest of the poor in our community."

Urban estimates his team has provided materials for 50 to 70 families, working at a pace of a project a month. Their pace is increasing; they have seven projects slated to be completed in the next two months, and in the coming year, they plan to spin the project off into its own nonprofit, similar to Habitat for Humanity.

"In a lot of ways, I'd rather not work on some of these places, but if we don't then who is going to?" Urban asked.

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It could be anyone in our community willing to lend a hand. The best way to get involved is to contact Urban directly. His contact information is available at bearchurch.org.

Related Topics: OUR VIEW
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