Interested in Housing Repair Counseling Anyone?

In only a few years mandatory homeownership counseling before being approved for a loan modification or mortgage has become the new norm in mortgage origination and servicing. Starting this fall New Yorkers can add housing repair skills counseling and hands-on training to the list of things they may want to learn before or after deciding to own a house.

The Home Maintenance Workshop is a new program for homeowners and prospective first-time homebuyers developed by the Housing Partnership, a New York-based intermediary for development of new, affordable homeownership housing on public and private sites whose business partners include the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

The weekly two-hour session workshops will be held in a gymnasium in Far Rockaway, Queens, that is managed by Margert Community Corp., another housing management entity that operates in the New York metropolitan area offering, among others, counseling assistance to persons who want “to be responsible renters, buyers and owners.

The goal is to provide community residents with “the ability to maintain their homes and enhance their value,” said Dan Martin, chairman and CEO of the Housing Partnership, and is consistent with the New York City objective “to maintain existing valuable housing stock and revitalize their neighborhoods.”

In addition, the Home Maintenance Workshop “is an integral component of the post-purchase housing counseling services we provide to first-time homebuyers,” said Joe Barden, executive director of Margert Community Corp.

These nonprofits see the program as a win-win for homeowners both from a personal and social perspective. It is a way to preserve neighborhoods and avoid the devaluating effect of curb-appeal losses that may not have been caused by foreclosures but simply reflect homeowners’ cost-related inability to preserve their properties.

The Housing Partnership designed the workshop to enable individuals to gain the skill set needed to do their own home repairs and engage in “preventative maintenance,” Barden said.

The program is unique and is equally useful to potential homebuyers who are also encouraged to attend. It benefits homeowners and prospective first-time homebuyers who understand the value of maintaining their home investment.

The workshop is a beginners’ course and all materials and tools are free of charge. Graduates receive certificates that confirm their newly learned skills. In the long run, the participating men and women will positively affect their community and “save money while keeping their homes in good shape,” said Walter Mullins, the housing repair expert who instructs the class.

It is a timely community outreach program, says Idan Sims, a spokesperson for the Housing Partnership, because it can be very costly to maintain a home and few people have the skills to do their own home repairs.

Being self-sufficient in housing repairs is not simply the most economical way to enhance one’s property value, says Barden, and this type of knowledge also empowers homeowners. It helps them “to better understand the extent of the repair work required, and to evaluate costs” when contractors must be hired for larger projects.

Home Maintenance Workshop students will learn how to replace and repair drywall, install light switches, receptacles and ceiling fans, securely mount light fixtures, install decorative moldings, repair/replace toilets, sinks and faucets, unclog drains, install burst-proof washing machine water lines, and ceramic tiles on walls and floors, and even how to make a home more energy efficient.

The hands-on instruction includes basic tool skills, carpentry, tile installation, plumbing repairs, drywall installation, taping and spackling, painting, wallpapering, electrical safety tips, energy efficiency upgrading and other home maintenance techniques.

Students must demonstrate their newly gained skills working with lumber, sheetrock and other materials by building finished rooms, complete with electrical and plumbing systems before graduating and receiving a certificate.

To provide various tools and repair materials at no cost to the workshop students need to exercise their skills during the learning sessions Margert Community Corp. partnered with the Home Depot Retail Donation Program and is drawing on its benefits as a member of Gifts In Kind International’s worldwide network of nonprofit organizations to secure free home repair merchandise.

“In order to maximize the learning experience,” Mullins says, classes are limited to 25 students. And up to two-thirds of the students are women, the traditional primary caregivers who tend to lack such skills. As a homeowner, Mullins argues, “I know how important it is” to be able to maintain your own home.

These two nonprofits, the Housing Partnership Development Corp. and the Margert Community Corp., have started a preservation approach that may take off in a housing market still in crisis.