Turns out, Fred Meyer was right. When he established what would become the Meyer Memorial Trust, Mr. Meyer offered this insight: "With thoughtful giving, even small sums may accomplish great purposes."
So it might not come as a surprise that just a few thousand dollars can sometimes make a huge difference for people facing unsafe housing conditions, shockingly high utility costs or even homelessness.
That's one takeaway from the Year One (interim) report recently delivered by an independent evaluator Meyer engaged to analyze the impact of grants we made in 2017 to nine organizations helping to make crucial repairs and other important upgrades to manufactured homes in rural Oregon.
Why Manufactured Housing?
Meyer has been actively engaged in issues around manufactured housing for about a decade. We've supported creative and impactful work to convert investor-owned parks to resident-owned cooperatives; funded efforts to pilot affordable replacement of older, substandard homes; and more than once wrestled with issues around repairing homes. We have been fortunate to work with a wide array of partners committed to improving conditions for people in manufactured homes, including CASA of Oregon, NeighborWorks Umpqua, St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, Network for Oregon Affordable Housing, the state of Oregon, Energy Trust of Oregon, Craft3, and USDA Rural Development, among others.
All this work is driven by the realization that manufactured homes are a crucial slice of currently affordable housing in Oregon and often the only affordable homeownership option for many people, especially in rural Oregon. About 140,000 households across the state live in manufactured homes, and nearly half those homes are at least 40 years old. Not every older manufactured home is in dire shape, but many older homes are well past their best days (particularly those built before the federal code updates of 1976 raised the bar for the initial quality and durability of new homes). Residents sometimes are living with structural defects, health hazards, terrible energy efficiency and even major safety issues.
Ideally, many of these homes would be retired and replaced by new, energy-efficient homes, but not everyone is in a position to afford such an upgrade, even with new layered subsidies some of our partners are piloting.
This urgent and ongoing need motivated our Request for Proposals in late 2016 focused on crucial repairs (including energy- and accessibility-related upgrades). We directed this funding to programs serving rural Oregon, both because we felt much of the state's need was outside urban areas and because smaller communities typically lack the local resources that could fund these repairs.
Looking beyond the two-year grants Meyer funded, we wanted to be able to show other funders (public and private) that continuing and expanding this work was impactful and a prudent use of scarce housing resources. To that end, we hired an independent evaluator (Chari Smith of Evaluation Into Action) to help us design and carry out a cross-site evaluation that could analyze and summarize what we learned from the nine projects we funded. We recently received the Year One report, which summarizes early results.
Highlights from the Year One Report
Evidence the evaluator collected from the program staff and from the people who were helped validated Meyer's sense that this work addresses important housing issues and made a material difference in the lives of people served. A total of 107 home repairs were completed by the nine grantees. Roughly half of those served completed and returned detailed surveys about their experience with the repairs done. Of these:
- 72 percent reported the repairs will help them continue to live in their home longer (by addressing potentially serious issues that could jeopardize their ability to stay there); 90 percent felt that the general comfort level of their home was improved.
- 70 percent felt their home was made safer by the repairs.
- 64 percent reported the repairs would help improve their health.
- 74 percent saw increased energy efficiency as a result of the repairs.
The improvements were targeted to people who had few other options for making these kinds of repairs. Nearly all the people helped live on an annual income of less than $30,000, two-thirds are seniors, and more than half the households have one or more members with a disability.
"For me, this process was lifesaving. Without your help, I can't imagine how things would be. I feel much safer and am so thankful you have programs like this for me."
"I was able to wash dishes, do my laundry, take a shower or bath. I can say that I never realized how much having hot water means in everyday living. … I live on a fixed income, and I could not have afforded to get a new hot water heater without this program."
The nine projects will wrap up their two years of Meyer funding in early 2019, and next fall we'll share the final report summarizing what we learned and what other funders might take away from this work. Some early thoughts on next steps we would highlight for our partners:
- There is a real need for more data, specifically on the health impacts of improvements to homes with serious health and safety hazards. This is an area where health partners such as coordinated care organizations could target some research connecting longer-term results of repairs with health outcomes and could lead to a strong evidence-based argument for funding repairs like this. Preventing falls, addressing respiratory issues such as mold, and generally supporting the ability of people to age in place (often in tight-knit and nurturing communities) seems likely to be well worth the relatively modest cost.
- Flexibility is an important consideration for other funders. All of the projects funded used some federal and/or state funding to help with these repairs, but those sources come with restrictions that can exclude homes (or particular issues) that urgently need attention. We heard loud and clear from our partners that the flexibility of Meyer funding was helpful in both leveraging other funds and filling gaps some programs can't.
- Organizational capacity can be a big issue for those delivering these repairs. Stable, multi-year funding is really essential to allowing organizations to make the investments in personnel, training and other resources to consistently serve this niche, and we all should be alert for opportunities to scale up and increase this capacity. Every grantee spoke of long waiting lists and unmet needs they could address with more funding. Steady and reliable funding could also help with building a cadre of reliable contractors ready and able to do repairs, which was an issue in some parts of the state.
We look forward to sharing this work and continuing to partner with the determined and dedicated partners around the state committed to sustaining and improving this affordable housing option.