Housing Security and Affordability

—An essay by Epicenter Principal Jack Forinash.

jack-homeJack’s boyhood home in Indian Springs, Alabama, photo from Google Streetview

Housing Security and Affordability as a Critical Component of Addressing Intergenerational Poverty

Coming to Green River eight years ago, I had some (albeit not much) experience in the development of single-family affordable homes. I naively thought I’d build a house in my year as an AmeriCorps member and that would serve as a replicable model that could address the lack of affordable, durable housing that I was seeing as a newcomer to town both as I was welcomed into the homes of my new neighbors and as I researched the data from local and national sources that tracked housing affordability. For this replicable model, I looked for a family and found one; I worked with those kids each day in an after-school program and got to know them and slowly got to know the larger community. I realized quickly that one house was not going to be a game changer in Green River. This place, like any other place, had embedded within it well-rooted systems, biases, and preclusions.

Low-income populations are especially vulnerable to instability and cost burdens in housing, with children most at risk. In Green River, 48% of children (age 0-18) are living in households in poverty. To make that point clear, nearly 1 in 2 kids in Green River are living in households earning a gross annual income of $24,300 or less (this income threshold is for a family of 4; the value changes annually and is based on household size: view here). These “extremely low-income households” (a defined term, not just hyperbole) are much more likely to be housing cost-burdened. It makes sense that as a household earns more money, it is able to afford housing costs more easily, as housing costs are not directly proportional to household income levels. According to the US Census Bureau’s 2015/2014 American Community Survey, 83% of all households in the US with annual incomes of less than $20,000 are spending more than 30% of their income on essential housing costs (rent, water, sewer, electricity, and heat/AC). In Green River, that number is 96%. For households between $20,000 and $34,999, 60% of Green River households are cost-burdened. Green River’s median household income is $38,906 (meaning, half the households in town earn under $38,906 and half earn above that amount). To simplify this train of thought (and in case you got confused by all the numbers), it’s safe to say simply this: regardless of renter-occupied or owner-occupied housing, regardless of race and ethnicity, regardless of family composition, over 1 out of every 2 households in Green River are housing cost-burdened. If that’s a household earning under $20,000 in Green River, you can be right nearly every time that that household is cost-burdened. Comparatively, looking at the other side of that median household income, 31% of Green River households earn over $50,000. Of those households, no households (0%) are spending over 30% of their income on housing.

In my opinion, the home (not the house, but the “home”) is the smallest unit of measure of a community. Its stability or instability affects the most vulnerable populations (children, the elderly, the disabled) the highest. I’ll focus on children, as they have the least choice in the matter of their home. A typical low-income family in Green River has both heads of household working. And typically these moms and dads work multiple jobs simultaneously. Jobs here are often minimum or below-minimum wage (minimum wage in Utah is already at the federal minimum of $7.25 per hour; hotels and restaurants are lawfully permitted to pay even less than that). Jobs here are also seasonally affected, with hours cut or layoffs made during the slow winter time from late October to early May. This coincidentally is the most expensive time to live in Green River, with high utility costs for heat (Green River has no natural gas; most families use propane that incurs dramatic price increases in winter) and nighttime lighting due to our latitude where the sun sets before 5 PM.

Should a family be cost-burdened, decisions are made that attempt to keep the household afloat. Rent/mortgage is paid first so that there is no eviction. Essential utilities next. Transportation to work is also a priority. Often that’s a car here, so there’s also state-required insurance, annual inspections, and passing safety inspections that may require repairs such as new tires or windshield replacement. Oh, there’s also food, of course. And clothes. These essential human needs (shelter, water, food, and clothing) can easily exceed what is available in a household that is spending well over 30% of their income on housing. This leaves parents to have to make inhumane decisions. Lower quality food (more preservative-based items, cheaper items high in sugar and fillers) becomes a requirement so that kids are not hungry. This poisons the metabolism and internal health of kids, affecting their lifelong health, making them sick more often as kids and setting them up for permanent health conditions.

Should families not be able to afford utilities and balanced meals, stress placed on the kids by being cold and underfed with poor diets leads to sleep-burdened nights and reduced mental activity that directly leads to poor educational achievement during the day at school. Compound that by our place, where there is one class per grade, and kids get left behind when they are not able to keep up. Now the child is poorly performing to the point that they do not have the grades to get into a quality higher education institution. They lose confidence as other kids tell them they are dumb and they start to believe it. Their potential job opportunities are narrowed to low-paying service jobs or high-risk positions.

1995_-bryant-haybale-house_59787p6Bryant Haybale House by Auburn University’s Rural Studio. Image copyright Rural Studio and Timothy Hursley.

When I attended Rural Studio in 2004, I had to spend a week helping repairing a past project, as was the requirement for each student. It taught us to be stewards of the projects of Rural Studio and inherently spoke to the idea that things change in a home and we need to better predict that inevitable change. I helped on the Haybale House in Mason’s Bend, Alabama, Rural Studio’s first house. Since its completion ten years prior, the home’s owner had since had both legs removed due to diabetes (a disease directly related to poor diet). I worked with a fellow student and a Rural Studio staff member to take out the tub in the one-bathroom house and lay low-profile tile so she could roll into the shower. As we worked one day, a visitor arrived that turned out to be a grandson of the matriarch. I remember he drove a new model crimson Ford Mustang. On the front porch (in what he probably saw as small talk but I still recall vividly), he told me that this house had been important to him. One of the iconic “wagon wheel” sleeping nooks had been built specifically for him. For the first time, he told me, he had a place to come home to each day, the same place each day. Prior to that, he’d not be sure where he was to get dropped off at, his mom’s, his aunt’s, his grandparents’, his other aunt’s. There at this house, as a young boy, he had his space. He had a place he could do his homework (the nook consisted of a small twin bed and a desk). He told me that he had graduated from the University of Alabama and and was now finishing his law degree from the same university (even though it’s Alabama [I know the jokes], I’ll point out the law school at Alabama is currently ranked #28 in the nation). He said, directly and succinctly, that the reason, the reason, he was able to succeed was because of this house and how it was designed to provide for him a place to come home to each day after school.

I’ve heard, growing up, about the American Dream, the idea that everyone has the opportunity to be whatever they want if they just try, and about “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.” What I have come to understand through working here with this community is that yes, in America, you can often improve your life and the life of your children. However, the opportunity for the “rags to riches” fairy tale is just that, a fairy tale. It happens rarely. More commonly, poverty begets poverty. Our American system today does not start everyone on the same playing field. I think we all agree on that. I don’t know, though, that everyone admits the cycle of intergenerational poverty is being predicted at birth. This prediction is possible to overcome, with diligence and, honestly, luck. But it’s a very steep hill.

A professor of mine at Auburn once said to me, “As you learn more, you’ll see that poverty is less a factor of an individual’s work ethic and more a result of circumstance.” We don’t choose for ourselves our ancestry, race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, country of birth, familial religion, or any identifier that becomes either an impediment or advantage in our world. By chance, I was born to a loving, stable family in the suburban American South. My family, led by my small business-owning parents, were able to provide all that was needed and much that was wanted. By no choice of mine, I was born white, middle-class, and to a family that expected educational achievement. On my first day alive, I was far ahead other babies born on the same day to a different family and place, and by no effort of my own. As we all have, I’ve had hurdles to overcome. I made something of myself, from my advantage and from the stoic support of my family and community. I never had to be uncertain that my home would be there; I never was hungry. I took this all for granted. We all often accept as a default something that was in fact mere chance. Now, as we recognize and acknowledge this, we must do all we can to help level the playing field for our neighbors. My passion, where I see I can be most helpful, is in doing all I can to improve access to affordable housing for the most vulnerable populations. I work to eliminate substandard housing in Green River, my home that has been a place where I’ve built programming alongside the mayor, postmaster, grocery store worker, Chow Hound employee, West Winds waitress, hotel housekeeper, and hardware store staff member; I’ve been encouraged by them and they have taught me what works best to get things done in this unique place with our specific idiosyncrasies. We’ve developed together, as a community, a belief that affordable, decent, and even noble shelter should be a birthright in America, regardless of place, being, and circumstance.

Your passion and your role is different that mine, coming from your life experience and your place in your community. I look for your support in what I take on, and I hope to be a source of ardent encouragement for what you are able to do to positively affect the lives of your own neighbors. After all, we’re all stuck here together for a little bit, no one of us can do much alone, and in general we’re all willing to give of our time when we’re asked; we might as well learn more about each other, find out where each one’s passion lies, and together do something more than the status quo.

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016
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Job Opening: Epicenter Housing Specialist

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We have a unique opportunity for an exceptional individual with a wide and varied skill-set: a chance to live and work in a small town in Utah. To help citizens of this rural community lead better lives. To demonstrate the value of design in community problem solving. To gain a one-of-a-kind experience in an alternative model of professional practice. To learn new skills. To improve our non-profit. To improve yourself.

We believe this desert town can bloom, but there is work to be done. We’d like to work with you to do it. We’re hiring for the full-time position of Housing Specialist. This unique individual will lead the award-winning Fix It First home repair program, assist in the design and construction of Frontier Houses, and more. Download the details here.

Applications are due July 22nd, noon MST, emailed to work@ruralandproud.org. Submit a cover letter, resume/CV with 2 professional references, and portfolio of relevant work not to exceed 8 pages and 5 MB, all as PDFs.

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
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Thank you, American Express!

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Epicenter has just received a $45,000 grant from American Express to fully fund the design, construction, and performance monitoring for the Frontier House!

At 650 SF and $36,000 (not including land and fees), the Frontier House is designed to be a housing prototype to address the overuse of mobile homes (“trailers”) in rural places, specifically in Green River where 28% of the housing units are trailers. These 133 Green River trailers house 49% of our population. Most of these homes (2 in 3) were built before 1976, before the federal government dictated minimum standard building codes. This means these homes are over forty years old, built with 2×2 very thin walls, and suffer from a lack of efficiency and durability. This prevalent issue has come to light as our Fix It First program began offering assistance to homeowners living in trailers by making critical home repairs. We soon discovered these old trailers were requiring more costs in repairs than the home was even worth, yet there were limited to no other housing options for these families that were affordable.

This new housing prototype seeks to bring homeownership within reach for our low-income populations. As a stick-built home, the Frontier House will serve as an asset for a family, rather than a depreciating “vehicle” as trailers are treated across the country. In this way, we hope to build a family’s wealth and home security so that they can escape intergenerational poverty and have an asset to borrow against for such things as higher education and entrepreneurship.

To learn more about the project, visit our project page here and review our 2014 Mobile Home Survey.

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016
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Farewell Armando!

armando-monument
Today, we bid farewell to a great collaborator and friend. Armando Rios, who first joined Epicenter as an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2012, will be leaving us for new opportunities in the great state of Michigan. Over his four years in Green River, Armando has helped Epicenter achieve momentous things, including:

– the completion of the first Green River Habitat for Humanity House,
– raising $70,500 in grants for Habitat for Humanity and serving a year-and-a-half on their Board of Directors,
– starting and developing Fix It First, recipient of the Utah Housing Coalitions’s 2014 Rural Project of the Year,
– 37 Fix It First project completed, affecting 100 Green River Residents and repairing 25% of the 146 homes identified by the Green River Housing Plan as in need of repairs, and
– raising $93,000 in grants for Epicenter, and self-generating $40,305 for the Fix It First program through client repayments that sustain the program perpetually.

We will miss his service, unparalleled work ethic, drumming abilities, and mirthful excitement. Below are some of our fondest memories of Armando and Green River.

mariaThe only thing I hate more than choosing a favorite anything is saying goodbye. So, for now, as a proponent of top-five lists, here’s my Top Five Favorite Armando Rios Memories:

5. (Almost) Every Taco Tuesday: Taco Tuesday has been a tradition since Epicenter’s inception: every Tuesday at 11:30 AM the staff goes to a local Mexican eatery (cue the never-ending La Veracruzana v. La Pasadita debate) and eat lunch (sometimes actual tacos) together. Regardless of the potential for slow service or mixed-up orders, Armando is always down for Taco Tuesday, and I love that about him.

4. Church Camp (circa July 2014): During Armando’s time in Green River, he’s always been the drummer for the house band. Of all the times they played, my favorite night was actually just a random Church Camp practice. It had been a +100-degree July day, but we had just been blessed with a late-afternoon rainstorm. With the garage doors open, a cool breeze, and the multi-colored Christmas lights reflecting off the wet concrete driveway, Chris Lezama and Armando played to an audience of me and a few others. Everything felt just right.

3. The Battle of Westwater (July 21, 2014): Every summer in July, Epicenter goes on a Westwater rafting trip. On the second day of the 2014 trip, a great naval battle was waged. I don’t recall the details of the battle, as much of it was a blur, but I could guess that while Chris was attempting to water-board me, Justin Queen was probably Hulk-smashing Armando into the river. Or maybe he was just peacefully hiding under the shade of the raft. You never quite know with Armando.

2. GRHS Basketball: I love going to sports games of all kinds, I always know that I could count on Armando to join me in cheering on the Green River High basketball team. The DJ G. Riches jams and semi-warm nachos just won’t be the same without Armando’s nervous panicking during the last few minutes of the closest rivalry games.

1. Grand Canyon: Epicenter has a tradition of road trip staff retreats, and the 2013 trip to the Grand Canyon puts all other road trips to shame: swimming in cold Lake Powell on the hottest day of our lives, sleeping on the edge of the Grand Canyon without another soul for miles, finding scorpions by blacklight at night, learning how (not) to dribble an Australian rugby ball. I worry that we’ll never have as good a trip as that one.

None of these memories are directly work-related. That’s not to say that Armando wasn’t an incredibly valuable asset to Epicenter’s work; he built the Fix It First program up from the ground! He will be missed in the office, but he will especially be missed as a contributor to the culture of Epicenter after-hours and to the community of Green River at large. He’s our ambassador of good times, sultan of summer, bringer of beats, dancer to Pony, lover to all, and the most fashionable longboarder/cyclist for over 100 miles.

You’ve left your mark on this place, Armando, and you won’t soon be forgotten.

– Maria Sykes, Principal of Arts and Culture, 2009-present

13528757_10100419751012661_870192749661845185_nDespite his self-infatuation as a Leo, Armando is quick to speak of his love for each of us: those here now, those in the past. The “I love you”‘s he throws out to everyone can come across as flippant, but in quieter moments we’ve had one-on-one, I can honestly say he’s actually very genuine in his care for us all, noting specific reasons and lengthy stories that he holds on to. For years he served as the Volunteer House on-site manager, often the first to welcome the hundreds of people that have visited with a hand-written note, local tips, and an invitation to watch the sunset. It’s not uncommon that people recall a story with Armando as a key component of their time here in Green River, no matter the length of their visit. It’s Armando’s everyone’s-always-invited attitude that I hope we find a way to maintain after he leaves.

Beyond that, he simply gets shit done. He has been at the bad end of plumbing, in tiny crawlspaces and attics, installed drywall overhead, renovated a dog kennel, and pulled weeds alongside volunteers he recruited, doing all these things in what most would determine inclement weather. Armando’s also the one making sure there is music and beer for the beach, to which I can’t recall one instance where he declined going.

– Jack Forinash, Principal of Housing, 2009-present

Armando-ashleyThere are too many great Armando memories—we all know this. But one of my favorite first memories was Melon Days 2012. It was the first time Armando and I had been on a float in a parade. Thrilled to be nuzzled up next to itchy hay bales, a half-dozen excited children, and buckets of candy to throw at the parade watchers, it was quite the introduction to our new home in Green River. This was only the beginning of our time in the wild, wild, West—packed with new adventures and endless happy moments.

Armando’s love for Green River and the people that live here is intoxicating. I truly admire his commitment to the work he has done, and this all attests to Armando’s quality of loyal friendship. He is a true friend: trustworthy, honest, and incredibly fun. I feel very lucky to have had time to work with and get to know the one and only Armando Rios Verde.

– Ashley Ross, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2012-2013

am-bryArmando was the first person I really got to know at Epicenter. Just a few days into my internship last summer, he and I left Green River to drive a group of design students from Japan around the Mountain West and then to Design Build Bluff where they worked on some small design-build projects. We acted as chauffeurs and advisors, radio DJs and cultural ambassadors. Many of the stories gathered here highlight Armando’s insatiable desire for fun and entertainment, but what I remember most from that trip is his equally strong sense of caring and responsibility. He remained protective of those students (whether hiking on a cliff edge or preparing for a night on the Las Vegas strip) and a diligent teacher. Looking at what Armando has accomplished over his four years at Epicenter, it is obvious that those qualities—his sense of responsibility and his care for others—have allowed him to foster great relationships with volunteers and grow the Fix It First program into an award-winning precedent. I saw all of that immediately within him. Over a year later, that trip with those Japanese students and Armando is still my fondest memory of my time at Epicenter.

– Bryan Brooks, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2015-present

AARAlthough many of my Green River memories involve Armando/Armandito/Mandi/R-man-doe, here are my top eight Armando memories, pictured from top left to bottom right:

1. 8-8-88 Celebration: Armando’s 27th birthday including tattoos by Mary, a dance party, and an amazing time.

2. Melon Days: Matching watermelon shirts for the parade, the watermelon eating contest, volunteering at the kid’s art booth, and everything in between.

3. Swamp Cooler: Although it was freezing, Armando eagerly helped remove a swamp cooler off a roof for a home repair. We enjoyed throwing it off the roof so much that, for a second, we considered carrying it back up to be able to throw it back down again.

4. Sardines Champ: Ten of us searched for Armando for a good half hour while playing Sardines. Turns out he was hiding under the couch. Luckily no one sat down.

5. Disc Golf: Armando’s sense of style is unsurpassed in almost all situations. The outfit he wore while playing disc golf further confirmed this.

6. Backyard Pool Parties: Armando: the pool inflator, filler, and DJ.

7. Utilikilt: The first day Armando wore his homemade Utilikilt working on site… only to spill Horchata on it during lunch at the taco truck.

8. Swasey’s Beach: Armando was always at the beach, but the most memorable moment was probably his impersonation of Baywatch last summer. Unfortunately, this resulted in losing another pair of his glasses to the mighty Green River.

Thank you Armando for playing such a large part in making Green River great and unforgettable. You were always willing to hang out—whether it was Sunset Club (I always look east now because of you), binge watching Netflix on cold winter weekends, or just sitting around the fire telling awesome stories. Green River is going to miss you, but Grand Rapids is going to be great. In all sincerity, ‘preciate ya!

– Katie Anderson, AmeriCorps VISTA, 2015-present

steph-wf

OH I KNOW YOU’RE FADED featuring Armando Rios and filmed by Mary Rothlisberger.

Thursday, June 30th, 2016
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Epicenter is a finalist for ArtPlace America’s 2016 National Creative Placemaking Fund

artplace

(June 7, 2016) Today, ArtPlace America announced that Epicenter’s Riverside Common is one of
80 projects that it will consider for its 2016 National Creative Placemaking Fund. These 80 projects are 6% of the 1,361 initial applications that ArtPlace reviewed.

ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Fund is a highly competitive national program that invests money in communities across the country in which artists, arts organizations, and arts activity will help drive community development projects that are addressing challenges or opportunities related to agriculture and food; economic development; education and youth; environment and energy; health, housing; immigration; public safety; transportation; or workforce development. Epicenter has proposed Riverside Common, a new, affordable multi-family housing community in Green River, Utah.

As the next step in ArtPlace’s process, Epicenter will complete more extensive application materials and schedule a site visit with an ArtPlace staff member and a national peer expert this summer. ArtPlace will convene these peer experts for an in-person panel meeting this fall and will then announce the final projects in which it will invest a total of $10.5 million in December 2016.

The complete list of the 2016 finalists for ArtPlace’s National Creative Placemaking Fund may be found here

About Epicenter’s Riverside Common

Green River’s 2012 Affordable Housing Plan (rated a top ten plan in the state by the governor’s office) identified a severe lack of rental housing: only twelve apartments exist in town (2.5% of all housing). Epicenter and its partners are working to construct twelve new and well-designed multi-family housing units that provide durable and efficient options for local residents. These units will innovate a model of housing in rural places, where traditional funding and access to architectural design are scarce. This Riverside Common will raise the collective standard of living, empower residents to become change leaders and beautify the community through design.

Riverside Common will double the available multi-family rental units in town and provide currently unavailable options (e.g. studio, multi-bedroom, and fully-accessible units). Elderly residents will have the option to age-in-place rather than 60 miles away from their family and lifelong home. Young adults will gain an affordable option outside of their parents’ home. The project will improve the standard of living, decrease substandard housing (specifically overcrowded mobile homes), and demand more of negligent landlords. The outdoor shared space will foster a micro-community and provide a third-space for populations that have been traditionally underserved including elderly, young, disabled, Hispanic, and low-income residents. Riverside Common will be the new standard for affordable and well-designed housing in Green River and for rural communities throughout the country.

About ArtPlace America

ArtPlace America (ArtPlace) is a ten-year collaboration among 16 partners foundations, along with 8 federal agencies and 6 financial institutions, that works to position arts and culture as a core sector of comprehensive community planning and development in order to help strengthen the social, physical, and economic fabric of communities. ArtPlace focuses its work on creative placemaking, which describes projects in which art plays an intentional and integrated role in place-based community planning and development. This brings artists, arts organizations, and artistic activity into the suite of placemaking strategies pioneered by Jane Jacobs and her colleagues, who believed that community development must be locally informed, human-centric, and holistic.

Media contact: Maria Sykes

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016
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Green River Vernacular Housing Study

housing

Green River is in dire need of not just affordable housing but also durable and efficient housing to replace our deteriorated housing stock. Astonishingly, trailers account for 28% of total housing units in Green River (compared to 6% nationwide or 4% in Utah). And, based on a recent study by Epicenter, 69% of all trailers are built before July 1976, before HUD established a national building code for mobile homes. Of all housing types in Green River, still the figure is high: 47% of all homes are in need of repairs (ref: 2012 Green River Housing Plan). We seek to eliminate substandard housing in Green River through a holistic approach including home repairs (via our award-winning Fix It First program), new multi-family housing construction (currently in pre-development), and through our design and construction of the Frontier House by the end of 2016.

This study acts as a guide for precedent and best practices for the Frontier House and any future single-family construction in Green River.

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016
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On the drawing board: The Frontier House

20K_v08_TH_96979 Rural Studio 20K House; Photo by Timothy Hursley

Epicenter is currently fundraising for a new design/build project: The Frontier House. In summary, Epicenter will design/build a 650 SF house, the city’s minimum home size allowance. The Frontier House will be a model of affordable, durable, and efficient housing costing $36,000 ($55/SF), not including land and fees. This house will act as a teaching tool within our community both during as well as after construction. Epicenter will maintain ownership of the house to allow future showcasing of the work while also using it to host our interns, volunteer groups, and Frontier Fellows.

Of course, we’re looking to Rural Studio’s 20K House product line as inspiration, adapted to our climate, this place, and our population.

The Frontier House is a prototype of affordable, stick-built housing for rural Utah. It will be a reproducible model, teaching best practices for efficient construction. During construction, community members, hardware store employees, and local contractors will be invited to on-site trainings and workshops to exhibit best practices on weatherization, protect against water infiltration, and utilize durable materials that are best-suited for the climate. After completion, the house will be monitored for three years, tracking utility expenses, material durability, and use. The house will maintain in Epicenter’s ownership, used as housing for our artists-in-residence, interns, and volunteers. In this way, Epicenter will keep the house as a tourable unit and a continual learning tool for visitors and community members. The full construction document, including plans and specifications, will be publicly released and promoted as a trailer replacement strategy.

Green River is in dire need of not just affordable housing, but also durable and efficient housing to replace our deteriorated housing stock. Astonishingly, trailers account for 28% of total housing units in Green River (compared to 6% nationwide or 4% in Utah). And, based on a recent study by Epicenter, 69% of all trailers are built before July 1976, before HUD established a national building code for mobile homes. Of all housing types in Green River, still the figure is high: 47% of all homes are in need of repairs (ref: 2012 Green River Housing Plan). We seek to eliminate substandard housing in Green River through a holistic approach including home repairs (via our award-winning Fix It First program), new multi-family housing construction (currently in pre-development), and through our design and construction of the Frontier House by the end of 2016.

Frontier House Budget & Timeline
In-house Design ($3,700) — Feb-May 2016
Community Engagement ($1,500) — Apr-Oct 2016
Construction ($34,750) — Jul-Sept 2016
— Construction Materials: $ 19,500
— Labor inc. sub-contractors: $ 10,500
— Land $ 3,000*
— Fees $ 1,750*
Post-construction monitoring ($800) — Oct ‘16-Sept ’19

Total: $ 40,750
*Variable based on site selection.


Want to support this project? Donate here.

Friday, January 29th, 2016
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Mobile Home Survey

Mobile homes (also known colloquially as “trailers”) were first introduced in 1956 as a new form of affordable housing. Since then, trailers have become a significant portion of the affordable housing stock across America. According to the 2014 American Community Survey (ACS) of the US Census Bureau, 6.4% of housing units across America are trailers. In Green River, this percentage is an astonishing 27.9% (source: 2012 Green River Housing Plan; the 2014 ACS has the percentage at 26.0%).

Mobile Home Survey-portion trailers pie charts

After completing a town-wide housing assessment in 2012 that pointed out the significant use of trailers in Green River, Epicenter staff members followed up in 2014 with a survey of trailers only, going door-to-door to thirty-five homes. We performed the study with the following goals: 1. to understand the unique circumstances and home repair needs of residents living in trailers, 2. to create a list of clients to refer to Fix It First and Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush With Kindness home repair programs, and 3. to gauge the desire for multi-family housing options in Green River.

In early 2016, Epicenter updated and formatted this internal report for publishing. It can be found here.

Since this survey was completed, both Epicenter’s Fix It First and Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush With Kindness home repair programs have begun performing critical repairs on trailers. These housing units were otherwise ineligible for virtually all housing repair programs offered by other agencies.

The collected survey information has also been used in Epicenter’s efforts to develop new multi-family housing units in Green River.

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
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Fix It First Celebrates Three Years

—Armando Rios – Housing Programs Specialist

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Fix It First turns three this month. With it being winter and not a prime building season, we now have time to sit down and reflect on the accomplishments Fix It First has achieved over the last three years. Everyone likes to hear about achievements and accomplishments, and though cliché, Epicenter and Fix It First could not have done it without all of the great people who have spent their time making the program succeed. We are proud to work with enthusiastic and energetic people to create affordable housing solutions for Green River.

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A timeline of the history of Fix It First (click to enlarge).

Fix It First was developed in response to the City of Green River’s 2012 Housing Plan which revealed that 46% of Green River homes are in need of repairs. The program officially began on January 18, 2013, when the first project was completed, while the program was initiated in October 2012 when Bike & Build awarded Epicenter $10,000. The grant is the largest amount that Bike & Build awards; the funds were utilized to begin a revolving loan fund. At this point Epicenter had the ability to purchase the materials necessary to do home repairs. This was the pivotal moment when the first steps were taken to develop the program.

Armando Rios, an AmeriCorps VISTA at the time, shadowed David Woodman at ASSIST in Salt Lake City; Dave manages ASSIST’s Emergency Home Repair program, which served as a model for Epicenter’s Fix It First program. The other model was Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush With Kindness program, which has plenty of experience doing repairs and success stories throughout the nation.

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Over the years we have been able to further develop “the gears” of the program, collecting data on what materials were used on a project, what extra materials were required to be purchased, hours spent planning and constructing, and repayment timelines. We now have a collection of specialized tools, and our construction knowledge base has grown to allow us to predict what sort of problems we will potentially encounter. With each project, the program’s efficiency and client satisfaction improves. All of us can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Through Fix It First, we’ve directly impacted 74 Green River residents completing 32 home repairs. With additional grants along with the repayments of loans by clients, we’ve invested a total of $52,491 in improving the housing stock in Green River, addressing issues on 31 homes in the last three years. We’re proud of the fact that 23 projects have been paid off, and the remaining nine have a 0% delinquency rate on their monthly payments. By the end of 2015, Fix It First clients had paid back $29,353 through affordable, low-interest monthly payments.

The projects completed to-date have addressed housing burden issues in 14.6% of the 212 homes identified in the 2012 Green River Housing Plan as in need of repairs. The momentum is there to reach the goal of eliminating all housing burdens in Green River, and that drive to improve quality of life for all Green River residents has been noticed by other private foundations. Our local electrical company, Rocky Mountain Power, awarded a $5,000 grant through their philanthropic foundation for use on home repair projects focusing on improving energy efficiency. The Sorenson Legacy Foundation pitched in $1,500 from a broader grant funding many of Epicenter’s programs. The Wells Fargo Housing Foundation jumped in too, awarding $10,334 in 2015 for both Fix It First and in support of our efforts of researching and planning new multi-family housing development.

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This new year will bring even more investment into Green River’s housing stock and alleviate burdens for local residents. For 2016, we’ve set a goal of 15 new projects, along with 10 additional small interventions to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in mobile homes.

For more information on Fix It First or to donate to the project, please call (435) 564-3330 or visit Epicenter at 180 S. Broadway, Green River, Utah.

Monday, January 18th, 2016
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Epicenter’s New Shop


We are excited to announce the completion of Epicenter’s new shop! Epicenter staff designed and built a new 340 SF shop on the back of the Epicenter property over the summer, led by our intern Daniel Richards. This new space securely and efficiently stores all of Epicenter’s and Habitat for Humanity’s tools (all 403 of them!) and provides interior space for pre-fabrication and craft work. When applicable, Frontier Fellows will also have access to the space and tool library.

We’re thrilled to have the tools out of the basement, which is only accessed through a door in the floor inside the office; the basement is once again a usable space for storage and work space for Frontier Fellows. In the new shop, the knolled wall of hand tools assures everything has a place and everything is in its place. The six-foot-wide garage door on the shop allows for trucks to be loaded right where the tools are kept. A new tool library check-out system keeps all the tools organized and tracked. And, for the first time, a 220-volt outlet will allow for the use of our Miller Thunderbolt AC stick welder for fabrication of steel projects.

Project: Epicenter Shop (340 SF interior, unconditioned, slab on grade, wood frame, reflective metal R-panel roof, fiber-cement board siding, painted plywood interior finish)
Construction team: Daniel Richards (Designer and Project Manager), Jack Forinash, Steph Crabtree, Armando Rios, Katie Anderson, Bryan Brooks
Concrete flatwork by High Desert Excavating (Green River) and electrical work by P&L Electrical Services LLC (Helper, UT).

Total cost: $17,454.90
– – Construction costs (materials and sub-contractors): $10,387.22
($6,661.49 [64%] spent in Green River, $2,009.65 [19%] spent in Carbon/Emery Counties other than Green River)
– – Payroll costs: $7,067.68

In-kind support from: P&D Ace Hardware
Funding generously provided by: The Wheeler Foundation and The Sorenson Legacy Foundation

Friday, November 6th, 2015
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