Kia Vang came to the United States in 1980, when she was 20 years old with one child. Experiencing the different housing quality from Laos to US, she was in shock. The structure of the home and the lights she sees when she walks outside made her feel like she is in a different better world.
Now Vang has 12 children. She worked as a laborer in packaging until the twins were born in 2001, but hasn’t been able to work since then. Ever since then she’s experienced weakened muscle strength in her legs and hands, and chronic back and foot aches. Doctors told her she was unfit to work. She still loves to garden and raises flowers and vegetables and chickens, though she can’t do as much as she did before.
She’s been living on $710 in Social Security disability benefits ever since 2001, as well as about $400 in government assistance for her two twin boys. With a $623 monthly mortgage payment plus food and utilities, it has been very hard for her to get by month after month.
Vang bought her home in 1996. “When I first walked in this home, I fell in love with the natural trees in the front yard, the three restrooms it had, it was next to nice neighbors … and near parks and school.”
With so little money, though, home repairs have been something she doesn’t think of.
In her home, two bathrooms had major mold problems, leaks and water damage; the exterior hadn’t been painted for years; the garage needed new siding, painting, and doors; a tree out front threatened to take over the yard; window frames were in disrepair and windows contained lead; gutters needed fixing and the carpet needed to be pulled out. The house was in such terrible shape that she was scared to get kicked out for code compliance issues.
That’s when I met her. I work for the East Side Neighborhood Development Company. Since I am bilingual in Hmong and English, my job includes helping homeowners to find resources for their homes. Many of these homeowners speak little to no English, and depend on translations.
ESNDC uses a technique called “bundling” to combine different resources available for low-income homeowners into a package deal. In all, the organization can pool from as many as 17 different sources to get homeowners sorely needed updates and repairs.
For Vang, I found help from six different organizations, which addressed all the major repairs the house needed. Vang was able to qualify for up to $100,000 of rehab and repair funds from the six different organizations.
Vang said, “I was shocked when I heard all the things Hearts and Hammers do. When Mai called me and let me know that I was selected, I was as happy as when I came from Laos to the U.S. I had the same surprise and excited feeling I had when I first step foot to the USA.”
Crews began working on the house on Wednesday, June 5, at 8 a.m. The groups of volunteers were from Thomson Reuter and they volunteered through Hearts and Hammers. Hearts and Hammers is a non-profit that does exterior work for seniors and physically disabled homeowners. More than 15 volunteers scraped chipped paint, tore out rotted wood on the garage and windowsills, re-sealed the garage and put up new siding, re-did window frames, cut out limbs of a giant pine that took up most of the front yard, raked and landscaped and fixed hand railings.
Contractors hired by Project for Pride in Living remodeled the home’s two bathrooms. PPL paid contractors with grant funds from Wells Fargo. The organization helps low-income homeowners who can prove they can’t afford to make repairs themselves. The bathroom work was extensive – both bathrooms were full of mold and they had to remodel the whole bathroom, including tearing out drywall and replacing the tiles.
And there’s more work to come.
A Brush with Kindness will come this fall to repaint some interior rooms of the house, repair cracked plaster and replace wood floors.
Rebuilding Together will come to update the home’s safety, including installing/replacing doorbells, installing outdoor motion lights, adding smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, making sure windows and doors lock, removing trip hazards, adding great grip to doorknobs, reorganizing cabinets, installing lower door handles, installing/reinforcing indoor and outdoor railings, and adding grab bars, shower nozzle and non-slip bath treads to the bathroom.
Vang was able to receive lead window replacement through a grant from the City of Saint Paul Department of Health, but because she doesn’t have any money to pay her portion, she applied for a deferred loan from the City of Saint Paul. Besides replacing of the lead windows in her home, with the deferred loan she can also remodel her kitchen, replace some beat-up old doors and repair the foundation. The deferred loan is a maximum up to $40,000 and it is forgiven after 30 years.
Neighborhood Energy Connection Energy Assistance has helped her paid for her heating bills for the past years. She will be receiving the Home Energy Squad visit before winter. They will help her with great looking energy efficient light bulbs, water saving shower head, kitchen and bathroom faucet aerators, exterior door weather stripping, water heater insulation, a programmable thermostat, and smart power strips.
With all the help that Vang will be receiving, she said that she is now relieved that her home is finally getting fixed up and she plans to stay in her home for the rest of her life.
Reporting for this article supported in part by Bush Foundation.