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For the last two years, it’s been difficult for 75-year-old retired watch repairman Cliff Jenkins to get around in his own home.

Advanced diabetes has caused nerve and muscle damage, and Jenkins now uses a wheelchair to get around.

But the living room in his home of more than 30 years on 27th Avenue in Albany had a sunken living room.

“He had to use a makeshift ramp to get into and out of the room,” explained Trent Suing, housing rehabilitation coordinator for Community Services Consortium.

Jenkins is one of four local residents taking part in a new housing rehabilitation program sponsored by the CSC and the city of Albany. It combines the resources of the Housing Rehabilitation Loan Program, the weatherization program, YouthBuild and the city’s block grant funds.

The program is called “One Block at a Time,” and it offers low-income homeowners no-interest deferred loans and skilled technicians to fix up their properties.

Last June, CSC Youth Build members handed out information fliers advertising the program in targeted neighborhoods throughout the city.

Suing said he first learned about Jenkins 17 years ago when he was a private contractor and installed some vinyl windows and doors in the 1,000-square-foot house.

YouthBuild crew members worked under and around the house, and John Joling’s contracting crew went to work repainting the home’s interior and exterior walls, replacing rotted siding, building up the sunken floor, installing laminated wooden flooring, replacing vinyl in the kitchen and bathroom and contracting out for a new central heating system and new gutters.

They replaced the water heater and demolished an old shed that was in the back yard.

They also installed new smoke detectors and placed bark mulch around the yard.

Suing estimated the value of the project at about $48,000, but due to the cooperative nature of the program, Jenkins’ loan is for only $30,000. It will not have to be repaid until he sells the home, transfers ownership or he passes away.

“I like it,” Jenkins said, “especially not having to roll down into the living room.”

Suing said Joling’s crew did “extra work they didn’t get paid for,” including placing the bark mulch and adding LED lighting on the exterior of the home.

On the east side of town, Margie Gilliam says that although her 780-square-foot home was built in 1948, it’s actually part of the modern wave of small, energy efficient houses sweeping the nation.

She learned about the program after finding one of its information fliers on the street.

Gilliam has owned the property on First Avenue for about 15 years, but didn’t move into it until three years ago. It had been a rental and there was considerable damage, including holes in the drywall, broken doors, damaged kitchen cabinets and, worst of all, a broken sewer pipe under the home.

Suing said the YouthBuild team got a real workout on this project.

Their first project was excavating a space about 18 inches deep to plumbers could repair the broken pipes and insulation could be installed between the floor joists.

The crew also laid down a plastic vapor barrier.

Although there was new siding on the exterior of the home, the interior was in need of much repair, Gilliam said, including electrical issues, and a kitchen that was a shambles.

“Now, the kitchen is fantastic,” Gilliam said. “Really, it’s a new house.”

The laundry room was finished off, insulation was added where needed and a ductless heating system installed to replace antiquated electric heaters.

H. Wallace Construction of Albany was in charge of painting, installing drywall, kitchen cabinets, flooring and doors.

Work began in November, and Gilliam called the coordination among all of the groups involved, “seamless.”

“There didn’t appear to be any division of the working groups,” Gilliam said. “You would have thought it was all done by one group, and the YouthBuild kids were so polite.”

Suing estimated the value of the project at about $45,000, but Gilliam’s loan is for only $28,000.

Two more homes are under renovation or work is about to start on them, said Anne Catlin of the city of Albany and Jeni Wells-Whitney of the Community Services Consortium.

Catlin said the city has about $58,000 left in this round of funding, enough to leverage another four projects.

“The goal is that this catches on and others in each of the neighborhoods will participate in fix up their homes,” Catlin said. “These are nice neighborhoods. This helps keep home values up and keeps the area a nice place for home ownership.”

Catlin said the smaller homes are attractive in today’s market as families look to downsize, and they’re also affordable.

Wells-Whitney said the groups are pleased with the success so far, but said there have been learning opportunities as well.

“It’s our first time doing these projects as a group,” Wells-Whitney said. “We’re all learning, and it requires communication and patience.”

Opportunities exist for new home foundations or repairs, roofing, siding, painting, weatherization, electrical and plumbing upgrades, heating systems, handicapped accessibility, and dry rot or structural repairs.

The CSC weatherization program offers a broad range of assistance including air sealing, home ventilation, furnace evaluations, heat duct sealing, insulation and refrigerator replacement.

YouthBuild offers everything from porch and siding repairs to weatherization, painting, flooring and more.

The goal is make repairs that will bring the homes into good repair for the next 20 years. 

For more information about the “One Block at a Time” program, call 541-758-2636 or visit

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Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.