CHIP kicks off second summer

Published 5:04 pm Saturday, July 12, 2014

CHIP volunteers paint a project house.  Photo provided

CHIP volunteers paint a project house. Photo provided

The Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) is about to kick off its second year working to improve homes in two Austin neighborhoods.

CHIP, part of the Vision 2020 initiative in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity, partners with homeowners to beautify and repair homes and yards.

Last year, the group started in a northeast neighborhood — north of Queen of Angels Church — and it plans to finish that neighborhood and start work in a southeast neighborhood near Marcusen Park this year.

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“We want to help out our neighborhoods,” Community Development Coordinator Brent Johnson said. “It’s a great way to get together and do something for your community. I think that’s excellent.”

The group improved six homes last year, and it’s slated to tackle 13 this year.

Work is set to begin again on Saturday, July 19, with brush removal at 501 Seventh Ave. SE, a painting project at 802 Sixth Ave. SE July 25 and 26, and painting at 1009 Sixth Ave. NE on Aug. 2.

‘A great fit’

Habitat for Humanity Freeborn/Mower Executive Director of Brigitte Campbell said a CHIP-Habitat for Humanity partnership was natural.

“It just seemed like a great fit for us,” Campbell said.

Habitat for Humanity oversees similar programs, including A Brush with Kindness and Rock the Block. CHIP focuses specifically on Austin neighborhoods.

CHIP’s goal is to work on two neighborhoods a year, starting phase one of a new neighborhood while finishing phase two of the other neighborhood.

Volunteers pose for a picture in front of a house after it was finished. Photo provided.

Volunteers pose for a picture in front of a house after it was finished. Photo provided.

“We feel that it’s going to be sustainable, and something we can do year after year,” Campbell said.

Some of the projects organizers plan to do this year include painting houses and cleaning out brush. Johnson said these are great projects for large groups, and can usually be finished in a day or two.

However, Johnson said whether the group can finish all the planned projects will depend on volunteers.

“[It] just depends on how big of a quantity of volunteers we have available,” Johnson said.

Volunteers have come from many places, including churches, clubs and businesses. St. Olaf Lutheran Church sent volunteers for the last project that was completed, which turned a yellow house green with a few coats of paint.

“We definitely need volunteers,” Johnson said. “We need all the help we can get. The more the merrier.”

But a high number of volunteers is not the only thing needed to finish the work. CHIP has worked to replace windows, doors and drywall, and the group completed siding, roofing and even foundation work last year. Such projects require carpentry skills, which is not always easy to come by in volunteer groups.

 ‘They’re very grateful’

To decide which houses to work on, CHIP members drive around the neighborhood they’ve chosen and look for homes with aesthetic needs. After everyone agrees on the selections, members contact homeowners to see if they are interested and willing to partner with CHIP.

According to Campbell, the program is similar to a loan: CHIP members provide the tools and volunteer labor, and the owner sets up a payment plan to repay Habitat for Humanity. Through donations, CHIP offers some grants. They also ask owners to be involved in the renovation.

“[We want them] to be a part of their own project,” Campbell said.

If owners are unable to help with physical labor, Campbell said anything they can do is accepted, whether it’s making a pot of coffee or simply allowing volunteers to use their bathroom.

Johnson said the homeowners they have helped so far have all been grateful.

“The people that we’re serving, they’re very grateful for what we’re doing,” Johnson said.

CHIP painted one home where the owners could not physically climb ladders to paint. After the work, family members from out of town passed by the house thinking it was the wrong one.

Johnson said there is a noticeable change in the owners after a couple of hours. Because their home looks nicer, they start to have a better outlook on the project and the home.

Since the program hasn’t been around Austin very long, Johnson worries many people don’t know about it. He hopes to get the word out about CHIP to bring in both volunteers and people in need.