Construction training aims to replace homes

Posted May 03, 2010, at 9:13 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A unique partnership has formed in town to help underemployed people learn home building skills while providing free labor in the construction of replacement homes for the state’s poor.

The goal is to replace as many of the state’s pre-1976 mobile homes with modest energy-efficient or “green” homes and help disadvantaged people such as high school dropouts learn skills that may help them find future jobs. The Pathways project kicks off its first training session this week.

“The trainees are building the houses,” said Ralph Chapman, a teacher at United Technologies Center and Eastern Maine Community College.

“They’ll be solid and meet all the codes and be as ‘green’ as we can go,” Carlton Pinney, division manager of the Penquis repair and replacement program, said.

Pinney has been in hundreds of inferior homes in the region, and said there are at least 10,000 families in Maine living in trailers they can’t afford to escape.

“You can’t help but become impassioned” by their plight, he said.

The two schools and a 13-group partnership made up of local electrical and plumbing unions, Maine State Housing Authority, Penquis, Eastern Maine Development Corp., and area cooperatives and agencies, are working together to get the Pathways program off the ground.

Penquis has had a home replacement program for about a decade, but lacked the financial backing to get home construction funding for poor people with bad credit, Pinney said.

“It’s all about the money,” he said. “A symptom of poverty is poor credit.” Without funding, “families are trapped” in their inferior, inefficient trailers, Pinney said.

MSHA is providing $500,000 in revolving loan funds for the Pathways program so low-income families may find the means to build their replacement houses.

Low-income people who live in trailers in Penobscot and Piscataquis counties should apply to see whether they qualify for a replacement home, Pinney said.

“Even if they have applied [for funding] before, they should try again because we have different money this time,” he said. “People have to be in a pre-1976 mobile home and they have to own the property.”

With limited funds, “the grant money will run out by the time we build seven to 10 houses,” Chapman said.

A grant, through the federal Pathways Out of Poverty program, and stimulus funds will provide the funding to pay for the training program. Group leaders hope construction on the first home will begin in July.

“The mission of the grant [is] to train 105 individuals in green construction skills,” Kitty Barbee, Pathways project manager for EMDC, said last week. “Participants of the program are offered nine months of skills training, at no cost to them, that can lead to successful career paths, apprenticeship programs, on-the-job training, or credits toward a degree program.”

The trainees also will be educated in construction math and will get 60 hours of “work-ready” training and 10 hours of training in Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards, which is required at most construction sites.

The campuses of UTC and EMCC will hold the training and provide space to build the replacement homes, which will be built in sections and moved and put together on the homeowner’s property. Fred Woodman, UTC director, said the partnership is a win-win for the community, those who get new homes and those who are trained.

“This is our dream,” he said.

Once in the program, trainees get a choice of the profession they would like to pursue.

“As part of the program participants will be able to choose specialization in plumbing and pipe fitting, electrical work or building construction,” Barbee said. “Tools will be provided and upon successful completion of the program, participants will be entering the work force with fundamental tools and enhanced skills equivalent to their careers.”

The first training class of 15 people is scheduled to start this week, if enough people sign up. Two future classes, serving 45 people each, are scheduled to begin later this year.

To find out more about the training or to sign up for the class, call the CareerCenter at 561-4050.

To find out more about the home loans for low-income families, call Barbee at 942-6389 or e-mail pathways@emdc.org or call Penquis at 973-3557.

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