O’Connor Fund bequest to assist owners of older homes
An unusual partnership between Community Homeworks and a local home preservation organization will help low-income Kalamazoo homeowners pay for critical home repairs. The O’Connor Fund for Historic Preservation in the City of Kalamazoo issued a grant to Community Homeworks to assist in providing repairs to homes that are at least 50 years old.
While the connection between home repair and historic preservation is not immediately apparent to many, it’s a natural fit, says Pam O’Connor, founder of the O’Connor Fund, which is administered through the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.
“Critical home repair is one of the most basic preservation actions we can take,” O’Connor says. “It’s what keeps a home upright and contributing to its neighborhood and out of the ‘condemned’ category.
Helping homeowners make critical repairs “is also how we can combat the “missing tooth” syndrome,” continues O’Connor, who is also a historic preservation consultant. “When the house on the corner has to be demolished because its owners could not afford to get their water heater fixed and it floods, not only do people lose their homes, but their street and neighborhood take hits too. If it happens again in that same block, the negative effect on the neighborhood multiplies.”
Luis Pena, the historic preservation coordinator for the City of Kalamazoo, agrees that home repairs are vital to the city’s overall health. “Critical home repairs are essential to keeping people in houses,” and having houses occupied is essential to preservation.
“Occupation helps to ensure that small maintenance issues are being taken care of, that houses are being heated and cooled to prevent weather-related damage, and that condemnation because of vacancy is avoided,” Pena says.
This is one of the first grants the O’Connor Fund has awarded through the Kalamazoo Historic Preservation Commission since it was put together almost 20 years ago. O’Connor is thrilled to see the organization she founded begin to disperse funds to the community. “I’m so happy that I cry happy tears every time I think about it!” she says.
Chris Praedel, executive director of Community Homeworks, says the grant will help his organization perform at least five critical home repairs in Kalamazoo over the next year.
“The grant will enable us to preserve historic structures and neighborhoods while simultaneously providing homeowners and families health and safety repairs when they have nowhere else to go,” Praedel says. “This will ensure historic homes will exist for another 100 years or longer, and homeowners can remain lifelong homeowners.”
Luis Pena, Kalamazoo’s historic preservation coordinator, agrees that the repairs made possible with the O’Connor Fund grant will improve the city for years to come. “Keeping houses occupied helps contribute to the fabric of complete neighborhoods and preserves that fabric for future generations.”
Praedel calls the grant a “win-win” and says, “we are connecting the dots to solve complex challenges in our community. I believe this is just the beginning.
“We are grateful to the O’Connor Fund and the Historic Preservation Commission for their shared vision.”