Nonprofits team with state, federal governments to tackle housing shortage in Eastern Kentucky

Republished from Kentucky Lantern


A religiously oriented group using volunteers from many states is doing much of the housing recovery work in flood-ravaged Eastern Kentucky.

The Appalachia Service Project has completed 24 new homes and fully repaired 40 more for flood survivors in Breathitt, Harlan, Knott, Leslie, Magoffin and Perry counties since the flood two years ago. 

ASP has 12 homes under construction and is repairing about 24 more. They say they are on pace to complete 45 new homes and fully repair 65 homes by the end of this year.

In coordination with The Home Depot Foundation and Solid Rock Carpenters (nonprofit partners from the Chicago area), ASP brought nearly 400 volunteers to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, to build the wall sections for 16 new homes (nearly 450 sections in total) and loaded them onto trucks for transport to locations in Kentucky and Tennessee.

Eight houses’ worth of walls and trusses were hauled to property owned by the City of Wayland, just across Kentucky Highway 7 from where ASP is working on its 11th new home for flood survivors. An official groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for June 26. 

A home “can come together in less than a single day with the help of our volunteers and friends in Kentucky,” said Chris Schroeder, ASP’s director of new build and disaster recovery. He said ASP has “been fortunate enough to serve our friends and neighbors in these areas for many years, even before the flood.”

Schroeder expects all eight homes to be completed by the end of the year. He said the 11 near completion are expected to be turned over to the families by the end of June. Most of the 17 home applications came from people within a 10-minute drive of Wayland.

The application process in Kentucky is handled by Haley Peck, ASP’s disaster recovery office and grant compliance coordinator.

“ASP is working with private landowners and local officials to identify buildable lots, preferably out of the floodplain,” said Grant Vermilya, ASP’s Kentucky flood recovery coordinator. “There is potential for 10 to 15 more in the town of Wayland alone.” 

ASP is looking into an area of private land near where the walls and trusses are stored. Vermilya said the owner is “looking at selling because he wants to see more homes like this pop up” in Wayland.

State government and other entities have helped with the infrastructure for the 11 homes in Wayland. Vermilya said the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky donated funds to purchase the property, and the state is providing up to $100,000 per home. The rest of the gap is filled by the Federal Home Loan Bank or a collection of smaller grants, Vermilya said.

The grants, donations, and volunteer fees all go directly toward materials and logistics for building each home. The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and the state supported the acquisition of the Wayland property. ASP says it looks forward to working with entities and local stakeholders to acquire more properties in their disaster recovery effort in Eastern Kentucky. 

In addition to the homes in Wayland, the organization will be building nine homes in phase one of the new high-ground community of Chestnut Ridge in Knott County and an undetermined number in the Skyview subdivision in Perry County. 

ASP has been connecting volunteers with communities in Central Appalachia for over 55 years. This summer, it will host more than 9,000 volunteers in 17 counties to build new homes and repair existing homes in West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee counties that the Appalachian Regional Commission and other agencies have identified as economically distressed and needing help with housing. 

Of the 82 distressed counties in the ARC region, 37 are in Eastern Kentucky. Schroeder and his teams served these communities before the floods. “We’re going to be there until the job is done,” he said.

Schroeder said ASP’s foremost intention is to remain in service of families in need for many more years until the job is done and until those impacted by the flood can get back to a life they can call normal. ASP’s strategic goals are to spend the next few years building 100 new homes and fully repairing 100 more for flood survivors across Eastern Kentucky. ASP has Kentucky centers in Breathitt, Harlan, Knott, Leslie, Magoffin and Perry counties.

ASP’s overall mission is to eradicate substandard housing in Central Appalachia. Over several decades, it has brought thousands of volunteers to the region to build or repair homes for low-income families.

With the help of organizations such as the Federal Home Loan Bank and the federal departments of Agriculture and Housing and Urban Development, ASP has “been able to extend timelines for another two years to meet the people of Appalachia where they are” while being mindful of taxpayer dollars and “stretching those resources as far as they can,” Schroeder said.

The government agencies ASP works with have a disaster recovery program that has been extended “because of the amount of need that they’ve seen in Eastern Kentucky,” Schroeder said. These programs normally provide financial assistance for families affected by a disaster for two years, but “because of the scope of the flood in Eastern Kentucky and other incidents as well, they extended that timeline by another two years.” 

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