Friday, June 21, 2013

NeighborWorks America Teams Up With Neighborhood Housing Services of Oklahoma City to Help Tornado Victims

By Brian Levinson, public affairs and communications advisor for the midwest region, NeighborWorks America

A fireplace is all that's left of this house in Moore, Oklahoma
Photo credit: Travis Marak

Soon after tornados struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, the extent of the devastation was apparent. Entire blocks and neighborhoods were flattened or heavily damaged, including two elementary schools, and 24 people were killed. Less than two weeks later, a second twister with winds exceeding 200 mph struck western Oklahoma City and El Reno, Oklahoma. It killed more than 20 people and went on record as the widest tornado ever recorded.

When the first storms hit, NeighborWorks America staff immediately reached out to Roland Chupik, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Oklahoma City, to check on staff and clients. As Chupik received preliminary damage estimates, he quickly focused his team on immediate housing issues: helping residents deal with FEMA, insurance companies, mortgage lenders and other organizations that were providing financial assistance.

“The emotional impact of losing your home is almost impossible to imagine. Most homeowners are overwhelmed with that loss, which can make it difficult to shift gears to start the recovery process,” Chupik said. “The NHS staff was not directly impacted by the tornados and has the expertise helping clients deal with government agencies and lenders, so we immediately jumped into action and offered our help to homeowners applying for assistance and completing insurance claims.”

Then, Chupik and NeighborWorks America staff focused on the next need: temporary housing. With 12,000 homes damaged and 1,400 destroyed, creating additional affordable housing units became critical. NeighborWorks America gave NHS of Oklahoma City a $100,000 grant to begin repairs on 15 foreclosed properties donated by J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America.

Front Row, right to left:  Corinne Cahill, deputy regional director, midwest region, NeighborWorks America;  Janet Barresi, Oklahoma State superintendent of public instruction;  Roland Chupik, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Oklahoma City (NHSOKC);  Elizabeth Jones, City of Moore director of community development
Back Row, right to left:  Wiley Rice, chairman, board of directors of NHSOKC;  Linda Rowe, director of home ownership, NHSOKC;  William Fulmer, housing director, NHSOKC;  Ashley Dickenson, neighborhood capacity builder, Neighborhood Alliance of Oklahoma City;  Jared Jakubowski, City of Moore special projects coordinator.
“The NeighborWorks grant will help us immediately start fixing up these homes so that some of the families who lost their homes can have a place to live,” Chupik said. “It will also help us pursue funds from private funding sources, so that we can rehab all 15 homes as quickly as possible.”

The third phase of the recovery effort is focused on a critical, long-term need: storm shelters. NeighborWorks America is working with all three network members in Oklahoma – NHS of Oklahoma City, Community Action Project of Tulsa and Little Dixie Community Action Agency in Hugo – to develop a strategy for building storm shelters for existing single-family home and multi-family projects, as well as incorporating storm shelters into future developments.

John Santner, Midwest Region director for NeighborWorks America, said the collaborative and multi-pronged approach to dealing with the housing needs reflects NeighborWorks America’s commitment to working with local groups who are in the best position to assess community needs, and addressing affordable housing needs in a way that has a long-term, positive impact on residents.

“We are eager to help our Oklahoma network members respond to these devastating storms in a comprehensive way that creates more and safer affordable housing in the communities they serve,” Santner said.