Abell Salutes: Banner Neighborhoods

May 2010 / Salutes / Community Development

For helping residents stay fixed in their homes by keeping their homes fixed up.

Eugene Eagelston is 79 years old and lives alone in the house where he was born and where his parents before him lived most of their lives — 223 N. Kenwood Ave. But he probably wouldn’t still be living in the house because the costs and the inconveniences of maintenance would have forced him to consider making other living arrangements. This dilemma was on his mind when he heard about Banner Neighborhoods—and that is when he changed his mind, and changed his life. He says, “I heard about Banner Neighborhoods from a neighbor, and that if I called them they would come out and make the repairs that were worrying me and that the service was free. Well, I called them and two very polite men came out and took care of my maintenance needs. They put some siding on the house, which was badly needed. They fixed a leaking spigot in the kitchen. They were pleasant and friendly and knew exactly what they were doing. They made a huge different in my life. I am no longer thinking about moving, not as long as there is Banner Neighborhoods. I am not exaggerating.

Mr. Eagelston’s is not an isolated case. An elderly Ms. Anita Impalleria lives alone where she was born and raised in the same southeast Baltimore neighborhood. She says, “The house is old and there were always problems and I live on a limited income and really couldn’t afford to stay in the house any longer. But at a meeting of the Patterson Park Community Association I heard about Banner Neighborhoods. And so I called them. They removed the air conditioner from above my front door and wrapped it for storage. They changed my light bulbs—I am too old to get up on ladders anymore. They changed the batteries in my fire alarms. Larry and Dave—the two men who came out to do the work—they’re super! They returned my call right away. I feel that I have somebody I can count on and make me confident that I can stay in my house and I don’t have to move.”

Banner Neighborhoods was founded in 1982 as a neighborhood project in Southeast Baltimore designed to help elderly homeowners on a fixed income maintain their homes, prolonging the years that they could live independently in their neighborhoods. Its stated mission: “To promote resident-based leadership, neighborhood pride and stability, and to provide direct services that contribute to the overall viability and livability of ten neighborhoods in the Southeast Baltimore community.” The Banner program target area extends from Monument Street to Eastern Avenue and from Washington Street to Haven Street.

A total of 132 senior homeowners are currently enrolled in the program. The average age of homeowners is 77 and their annual income averages $12,400. Most participants are single female homeowners who, without Banner Neighborhood’s assistance, would not be able to maintain their houses or live independently. During the past year, the crew responded to a total of 135 service calls, in addition to multiple maintenance visits to each household during fall and spring to check gutters, move air conditioning units, change ceiling light fixtures, and test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Often the difference between an elderly resident being able to remain in his/her home or having to move from the community is the ability to make the small but necessary repairs and upkeep needed to maintain a home. Banner Neighborhoods finds that household tasks which require tools and ladders, specialized knowledge, or heavy lifting are simply impossible for the elderly homeowner to complete without assistance, and with the household’s limited financial means, regular home maintenance is deferred. This program helps aging homeowners remain in the neighborhood, contributing to the vitality and stability of the neighborhood population and maintenance of the housing stock.

Two part-time crew members respond to home maintenance calls and work with homeowners to address problems related to the home. Banner Neighborhoods makes minor home repairs and services ranging from faucet replacement to handyman tasks like gutter cleaning and window air conditioner installation and removal. By having staff regularly go into homes, talk with owners and observe conditions, Banner Neighborhoods keeps a watchful eye on their clients’ ability to negotiate upkeep and maintenance of their homes. They intervene with additional resources from the city and state to prevent a problem in the house, such as water damage or faulty furnace, from becoming a problem for adjacent houses and the entire block.

Next year the program will support the existing 132 homeowners in the program and expand to serve additional households requesting services. The cost of the service is less than $1,000 per household, for which participants re-enroll annually and pay no fee. In the coming year, the staff will receive additional training on energy efficiency and services that include outreach and education on energy saving measures and increased referrals to the city’s weatherization program.

Mrs. Sophia Rosselli has been living in her home at 262 South Eton St. for 40 years. She says, “I had Banner neighborhoods come out and change light bulbs. They painted the outside wall of the garage, and the cornice, and fixed the leaking faucet in bathtub. I can’t tell you how much they have done for me! Banner Neighborhoods is the greatest gift that you could give us old people on fixed income!”

The Abell Foundation salutes Banner Neighborhoods, its executive director Jolyn Rademacher Tracy and her talented work crew, for helping residents stay fixed in their homes, by keeping their homes fixed up.