Habitat Broadens Services With New Partnership; Grant Program Can Assist With Disaster Recovery

BERLIN – Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County continues to expand its reach through participation in a program designed to help homeowners dealing with disaster damage.

Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County is working with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to connect property owners with grants to help them pay for home repairs following natural disasters. Though the organization in the past has focused on building new homes, Executive Director Andrea Bowland says this program will enable Habitat for Humanity to broaden its services.

“One of the things we want to get across is how many families in different walks of life we’re able to assist,” Bowland said.

Bowland said MEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program was designed to provide homeowners with help paying for things like elevation, relocation and even demolition following natural disasters. Because individual homeowners can’t apply — they’re supposed to work with a sponsor entity — Bowland said Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County opted to get involved. Once a homeowner contacts MEMA to determine whether a project is eligible for funding, he or she can ask Habitat for Humanity to begin the application process. Once a grant is awarded, Bowland’s group handles the paperwork and manages the project.

“What we’re dealing with now are the residual effects of previous disasters,” she said.

Though participants in the program are expected to put in the “sweat equity” Habitat requires with its more traditional projects, the work is often not on the actual project construction.

“It’s very specialized work because the homes have to be elevated,” she said.

Instead, homeowners can volunteer their time in other ways. The recipient of Habitat for Humanity’s first hazard mitigation grant, a homeowner in West Ocean City struggling to repair damage from Hurricane Sandy, is providing graphic design services to the organization.

“Oftentimes helping out with Habitat for Humanity is more than swinging a hammer,” Bowland said.

The grant program is a little different than Habitat for Humanity’s typical projects not only because it funds repairs rather than new buildings but also because it’s open to more people. While the organization’s new homes go to area residents making 30-60 percent of the median income, those applying for hazard mitigation grants can be members of a higher income bracket.

“Our pool of applicants for programs like this is greater than for our typical housing projects,” Bowland said.

She added that this was just another example of how Habitat for Humanity of Worcester County was working to broaden its community efforts as it celebrated its 20-year anniversary.

“We’re diversifying what we’re able to be involved with,” she said.