UAW and Community Housing Solutions partner to build ramps, repair houses

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Two guys working on a front porch of a house

Roger Carney, CPA and controller at Community Housing Solutions (CHS), gives Greater Cleveland residents the tools and resources needed to keep and repair their homes.

Carney deals with everything from installing hot water tanks to foreclosure counseling. Serving low-income homeowners — the majority minority and elderly — the needs Carney fills are desperate.

“I’m not revitalizing neighborhoods, I’m trying to keep people alive,” he said. “So when a senior calls on a winter morning and says ‘I don’t have any heat and I’m going to die tonight if you don’t help me,’ I want to react to that. Those are the kind of things we do and they truly are big deals.”

But, with a finite budget from the county, city and state, he admits there are needs he can’t always meet. “I can do anything, I just can’t do everything,” Carney said.

One of those needs was Orel Parsons’ for a handicap ramp. A double amputee due to diabetes, Parsons lives alone and was unable to maneuver himself down porch steps. A ramp would cost thousands, Carney said, and was more than he had to spend on a single house.

But, through a recent partnership with United Autoworkers (UAW) Local 1250, Carney was able to meet Parsons’ need. All Carney had to pay for were the materials, UAW members provided the labor free of charge – a quote Carney’s other contractors couldn’t beat.

“The partnership with United Autoworkers allowed us to pay for the materials and then in turn, they would take care of the cost of the labor,” Carney said. “It was really a very good project.”

Bridging a gap

A year in the making, the partnership between CHS and UAW developed from funding changes at United Way of Greater Cleveland. A longtime partner agency, United Way was unable to continue funding to CHS for fiscal year 2015. Still wanted to collaborate with CHS, Monica Ghose and Alan Bedingfield, relationship managers at United Way of Greater Cleveland, leveraged their contacts to connect the two agencies.

UAW workers working on a patio

“We connected UAW because of an existing relationship Alan had with Ford’s campaign manager,” Ghose explained. “Alan and I spoke with various people in Community Impact at United Way to get the right contacts, and Community Housing Solutions came up because they were no longer receiving funding.”

Pat Wallace, vice president of UAW Local 1250, welcomed the chance to work with another nonprofit. The local’s group of five men have worked with nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, offering carpentry and other skills as part of a national UAW-Ford partnership program.

Participating for the past four years in the initiative, Wallace’s team members serve the community 40 hours a week.
Because of the partnership, Carney said he is able to do more at each house. Having completed two projects — Parsons’ and a front and back porch and steps for a Cleveland man — UAW is the first that come to his mind.

“I help more people or I can do more at each house,” Carney said about the partnership. “And oftentimes the needs are so great that it’s multiple things that are happening in each house. So I’m spending the same amount of money but am able to do things that are critical.”

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