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Want Healthier Communities? Start at Home.

Updated: Feb 22

Removing the economic barriers to safe and healthy housing is critical to Central Florida’s future.

For many homeowners, if your HVAC fails, you'll call a repair company to fix or replace it. While you might be annoyed at the price tag, maintenance is part of owning a home. As a homeowner, you understand the consequences that can happen if you delay repairs. Maybe that unexpected HVAC expense meant postponing a vacation or made you think twice about extra purchases in the coming months. The reality is, within a day or two, your HVAC will be up and running, and someday you can look back at this time as an uncomfortable, expensive inconvenience.

But what happens to homeowners who can't afford home repairs when they need them?


Depending on the repair, some might turn to homeowner's insurance, and for those with adequate coverage, it's a great option. Insurance has limitations and does not always address the full scope of health and safety concerns happening inside the home. Consider the example that homeowners are faced with every day: it’s time for policy renewal, and the old roof is leaking. The insurance company says a roof replacement is needed at the homeowner’s expense within a short time frame, or their policy will be canceled.

In this scenario, many of us might borrow money to pay for the repairs and keep the insurance policy active. After all, insurance lapses mean higher premiums in the future, making the financial barriers to safe and healthy housing that much higher for families and seniors who are already struggling. For folks with good credit scores, steady income, no existing financing on their home, or other barriers, a loan might be the answer. For those who do not qualify for financing, delaying or forgoing repairs because a family can't afford a one-time expense can quickly escalate into years of preventable financial and health problems.

When paying for critical home repairs is out of reach, homeowners are left with last-resort options and might seek alternatives that cost more over the long term. Maybe a well-intentioned friend with handyman skills attempts to fix the problem but quickly exacerbates the damage because they lack proper tools and experience. In other cases, homeowners might fall victim to scammers who pose as contractors and run off with the money before a job is complete. It's a devastating scenario that happens in our own backyards. We can, and we must do better for our neighbors in 2021.

Whether the financial barriers to repairs are a long-standing or temporary problem, I want our community to know they can turn to Rebuilding Together. Affiliates across the country have repaired homes since the '80s. Locally, Rebuilding Together of Central Florida (formerly known as Rebuilding Together Orlando) has been rebuilding for nearly 20 years. Our team has replaced roofs, made kitchens accessible, restored running water, cleared storm debris, improved community spaces, distributed supplies, and educated hundreds of our neighbors on how to maintain their homes for generations to come.



Since opening our doors in 2002, we have worked with thousands of volunteers. However, last year when group gatherings became unsafe, so did nearly two decades of business strategy. How would we continue to make critical healthy housing repairs during the pandemic when our operating model depends on groups of volunteers entering the homes of our community's most at-risk members? Last year, instead of hundreds of volunteers, our team worked with just 6% of the volunteer force that we usually do. I will be forever thankful to the Rebuilding Together of Central Florida friends who stepped up and made sure we never stopped rebuilding. The unsung heroes of safe and healthy housing in 2020 are the contractors and trades professionals who donated their team's time and materials to make many of our repairs possible.


We urgently need our community's support to increase the number of homeowners we help this year. The need is dire, and timing has never been more critical. My mission is to make RTCFL a household name so that no one in our community has to choose between the roof over their heads and food on the table, and I need your help. If you learned something about housing issues or Rebuilding Together today, please share this post. You never know who in your network might need help, or who may be able to help RTCFL expand our impact.

For those who want to volunteer on a group rebuild project: we appreciate your patience as most in-person volunteer projects remain on hold. We miss you and look forward to seeing you in person again once it is safe to do so! Visit our volunteer page and subscribe to be notified when we're ready to rebuild with you! Email Tony Galvao to start the conversation about rebuild projects for 2022 today. If you have repair skills to share: RTCFL welcomes and needs in-person volunteer support from licensed, insured contractors, companies, and trade professionals this year. Email Rebuilding Together's Director of Operations, Brian Coller to get started. If you can volunteer from home: we are looking for a variety of professional skills to support our team, including graphic design, marketing, photography, and more. Our Development & Events committee seeks members to help us creatively reach more people this year than ever before. Introduce yourself in an email to Nikki Aviles and let us know how you can help.

If your HVAC fails and you can afford to replace it without forgoing essentials like food, healthcare, education, utilities, or other critical bills, please consider supporting RTCFL with a monthly or one-time contribution of any amount by visiting www.rebuildingtogethercfl.org/donate. It takes a village to rebuild, and we need your help more than ever. Thank you for reading, sharing, and rebuilding Central Florida together.

Abby Lemay is a housing advocate with ten years of experience working in organizations that address quality of life for our neighbors. Abby serves as the Executive Director of Rebuilding Together of Central Florida, a nonprofit that provides free critical home repair and modification. An alumna of the University of Central Florida's Master of Nonprofit Management Program, Abby also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from Stetson University. Originally from Rhode Island, Abby has called Central Florida home since 2007.

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