Green Block Build Coalition Brings Extreme Home Makeovers to Mantua

Community partners and an estimated 300 to 400 volunteers have come together to offer extreme home makeovers to 20 low-income homeowners on the 3800 block of Aspen Street in Mantua this month.

The Green Block Build Coalition is a pilot program led by local organizations working together over two weekends to improve homes and make them both safer and more energy-efficient. Those involved also hope to educate residents on energy-efficiency and, in the process, increase financial stability.

The program is a collaborative effort by groups ranging from The Partnership CDC, People’s Emergency Center and Mantua Community Improvement Committee to LISC Philadelphia, SCI-West and Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP) with support from Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania.

“It’s a blessing because if I tried to do that on my income, it’d never get done,” said Charleston Clemons, Jr., whose house is being fixed-up as a part of the program.

One lead skilled laborer per house and students from the University of Pennsylvania are guiding construction each of the homes. John Jessup and Ryan Houck, two Penn students, and Zephyr Mitchell, an independent contractor, are in charge of the renovations on the Aspen Street property where Clemons has lived since 1984.

“With my direction and their skill set, we’ll get a lot done,” Mitchell said. “…Our main concern is safety – making the home safer.”

Their list of projects includes replacing the basement stairs and kitchen floor, making a bathroom more handicap-accessible, fixing the backdoor, repairing the roof and more. Mitchell said they have prioritized projects and will complete as much as possible in the time they have.

“It’s a blessing, so they can take their time,” Clemons said with a smile as he sat on his front porch and watched the activity.

Around the block other home improvements include repairing and improving roofs, installing storm water downspouts, removing allergy and asthma triggers like mold and dampness, sealing windows, replacing doors and planting greenery.

Each community partner is contributing different materials and skills to the physical repairs and educational components.

Rebuilding Together Philadelphia Executive Director Carrie Rathmann, right, talks with one of eight volunteers from Choice Hotels. | Christine Fisher
(Rebuilding Together Philadelphia Executive Director Carrie Rathmann, right, talks with one of eight volunteers from Choice Hotels. | Christine Fisher)

“Each of the services that everyone provides is going to both deepen the impact and better sustain each of the other pieces,” said Carrie Rathmann, RTP Executive Director. “… Each one effects the next and makes the next more impactful.”

Jamie Gauthier, Program Officer at LISC Philadelphia, agreed. “With this project, everyone is bringing a lot of what they do to the table,” she said and listed the program’s multiple goals – to increase financial sustainability by preserving homes and reducing energy bills, educate homeowners on energy efficiency and home health, foster community and neighborhood pride and show how multiple partners interested in energy efficiency and physical development can work together to foster large scale improvements on a block.

“It’s a dream you never thought would happen,” said Alice Brooks who has lived in her Aspen Street home off-and-on since 1971.

She called the project an extreme home makeover and said she and neighbors will keep improving their homes even after the Green Block Build Coalition project ends.

“This is not going to stop,” she said. “This is an uplift.”

The partners involved hope Brooks is right. They hope to continue this model throughout Philadelphia.

“That’s the idea,” Rathmann said, “that it could be replicated, that it could be scaled up, that different partners could do the same model in different parts of the city.”

After the renovations and improvements are complete, students from Drexel University will perform impact analyses, which Rathmann said she and other Green Block Build Coalition partners hope will help spread the model.

“We’ve been here 67 years,” said Barbara Hall, another resident whose home is being repaired, “and we want to be here more. With the help of [this program], we will be.”

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