Rebuilding Together East Bay North

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Photo Credit: AP Photo Noah Berger US News

Rebuilding Together East Bay North

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By John William Frye  

 

In 1996 by the Mayor of Albany, Bill Cain, and his wife Suzanna Yeh started an all-volunteer group called Christmas in April, and would organize big workdays on the third weekend of that month. They first expanded to additional weekends in April, then to a seasonal effort. Originally started to provide home repairs for low-income seniors, it grew to provide services to adults with disabilities, veterans, and the community facilities that serve them and changed the organization’s name to Rebuilding Together. Within the last three years they further expanded to serve group facilities, shelters, ADUs, and other forms of alternative housing, and it is now a year-round workforce of volunteers and community partners.

 

Now volunteers, workforce development, late-career professionals, early-career professionals, and amateurs are integrated into the building development and architectural design process. Every member of the community has something to offer and receive and they pass along the information they have and gain new skills and connections in the process. As a result, people in the community build on their existing skills, and RBEBN gets community buy-in from various stakeholders. They approach design, build, and habitation through the lens of multiple stakeholders.

 

The housing crisis in Berkeley is part of a regional lack of housing throughout the Bay Area. This regional problem requires a regional solution. It's so large and complex that it can only be solved by bringing online every kind of housing option that's available. RTEBN takes an “All of the Above” approach. That includes congregate shelters, SROs, hotel conversions, tiny homes, ADUs, and maintaining our older homes stock.

 

When community development is first considered, the usual issues are how to fund, entitle (get permits, etc.) and construct them. RTEBN utilizes design thinking to create holistic systems so each success can help reproduce the next one. Who can they bring to the table along with funders, community leaders, and elected officials? Can they incorporate individuals and community groups in the design and development process? This provides stakeholders with a voice, and also teaches the hard and soft skills of community revitalization to folks too often shut out of the conversation. This also creates resilient communities by teaching everyday folks to look at their neighborhoods as evolving commons that they have a role in shaping.

Gutters When the project gets to the physical labor of construction, moving, cleaning, or other direct services, RTEBN includes universities, workforce development programs, youth volunteers, and early-career contractors alongside seasoned professionals with the explicit intention to pass intergenerational knowledge along through training. For instance, their Estate Cleanout (ECO) and Re-use programs incorporate unhoused staff members in every aspect of the work. This provides opportunities for vulnerable folks to make a living wage while learning additional skills for future opportunities. Also, the goods that are removed are diverted from the waste stream and donated to service organizations that collaborate with RTEBN on other service projects. 

 

 

All of their programming incorporates this human-centric approach to continuous learning and personal development. RTEBN encourages its collaborative partners to adopt that philosophy throughout their agencies. This is supported by earmarking part of their budget for building capacity in RTEBN’s partners. Those partners can then adopt the more labor and coordination-intensive approach without taking money away from their own projects.

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Can they involve future residents in the construction, moving, cleaning or other direct services?

 , and anyone else at the table in shaping communities. 

 

 Who is going to benefit at each stage of development. 

 

When we talk about community development, the first thought is how to fund, entitle, and build projects. After that we think about how to take these successes and build systems that can reproduce them. RTEBN really looks at who the 'we' are in this process. Who is it in the room with funders, community leaders, elected officials, and other stakeholders in the first place that have a seat at the table in shaping communities? Who is it that is going to benefit at each stage of the project, and who is going to be the keeper of the intellectual property of how to reproduce it? 

 

The RTEBN model looks at these questions and designs programs to ensure that any project from home fixes to building out major community facility projects incorporates individuals and community groups in the design and development. This allows stakeholders to not only have a voice in design, but it teaches the hard and soft skills of community revitalization to folks that would otherwise never have the opportunity. This also creates resilient communities by teaching everyday folks to look at their neighborhoods as evolving commons that they have a role in shaping. Then, as we get into the actual work of construction, moving, cleaning, or providing other direct services, we do it in a model that includes universities, workforce development programs, youth volunteers, and early-career contractors alongside seasoned professions with the explicit design to pass intergenerational knowledge through hard and soft skills training. For instance, Our Estate Cleanout (ECO) and Re-use programs incorporate our unhoused staff members in every aspect of the work. This provides our more vulnerable neighbors the opportunity to make a living wage while also learning additional skills that will help them generate additional income and opportunities. At the same time, the goods that we remove are able to be diverted from the waste stream and donated to a network of service organizations that in turn continue to collaborate with RTEBN on a host of other interrelated service projects. 

 

All of our programming incorporates this human-centric approach to continuous learning and personal development, but it is only as resilient as the collaborative partners that will continue the work throughout their agencies. The way to ensure that the intellectual property is as equitably distributed as is the funding and participation requires incentivising other organizations to partner with us beyond just the one-off building projects. We achieve this by ensuring that a portion of all our fundraising is earmarked to build capacity in RTEBN's network of partners. This makes it a lot easier for our partners to ascribe to a slightly more labor and coordination-intensive approach to our work. 

RBEBN utilizes design thinking in their approach. They consider housing initiatives holistically, including the people actually living in them, and their end-to-end needs. That includes their other challenges: medical, psychological, emotional, and trauma-Informed approaches and set these in a greater context of poverty alleviation.

 

 

They consider how to build in a way that also provides jobs, “up-skills”

people, and provides the additional soft and hard skills needed to live in and maintain properties and housing. They ensure an end-to-end, holistic integration of things like workforce development, network building, soft skills development, and medical and mental health services when they design their programs. The programmatic design considers the physical layout, how the space will be used, and by whom. The goal is to use every aspect of design and building to make community members more resilient by providing folks with the capacity and resources to continue the work for themselves and their neighbors. Housing is such an essential part of a human being's life, and barriers to housing can come in every aspect of one’s life. The importance of partnerships among agencies, jurisdictions, and individuals are crucial because no one modality of housing or relieving the barriers of entry can be provided by any one organization. The most important thing is that whatever success they’ve had in keeping people housed or getting people housed has been a success story of working with volunteers, businesses, governments, and other social service agencies. 

 

Tiny home framing at Iron Triangle Revitalization Kick-off Party 4/30/22 at Nevin Park, Richmond, CA. From left to right: JW Frye (Executive Director-RTEBN), Gayle McLaughlin (Richmond City Council), Lajon Reese (Motivated 2 Help Others), and Demnlus Johnson (Richmond City Council)

 

 

 

 

Their vision includes safe homes and communities for everyone. 

 

Applications are accepted year-round. Participants are all low income and must be seniors, veterans, or people with disabilities in order to qualify for free home repairs.

 

Historically, Christmas in April and Rebuilding Together did big workdays only the 3rd weekend in April. This expanded out from one weekend in April to multiple weekends. And then it became an ongoing 365 workforce of volunteers and community partners