On the Continental Divide, ringed by beautiful mountain ranges, Butte is the fabled “Richest Hill on Earth,” where a huge amount of the world’s copper was mined, and many fortunes were made. What is left in Butte is the nation’s largest Superfund site and the need to pick up the pieces after more than 120 years of boom-and-bust cycles. Butte has a large National Historic Landmark District, the second largest in the nation, including troubled neighborhoods of crumbling houses and dwindling hope.
Most housing in the Central Butte Neighborhood was built before 1930 and much of the city’s substandard housing units are located in this neighborhood. In the last several years, the Butte-Silver Bow government has been successful in obtaining funding support for water-sewer replacement work, some of which is going to this neighborhood, but at the same time, the government has ended its housing rehabilitation program. This neighborhood is in critical need of housing program services, with many low-income households at risk of living in condemnable property and not able to secure financing to repair and upgrade housing.
The National Affordable Housing Network, which has its headquarters in Butte, is certified as a local community development housing organization (CHDO) and has begun to work with other housing providers to rebuild the neighborhood.
The Network has donated the resource development support to raise funds for Habitat for Humanity to build its first 10 new homes in the neighborhood. (The Diocese of Helena has been key to this effort by donating eight building sites to Habitat in the center of the neighborhood.)
Also, the Network has coordinated local volunteer services to Habitat to ensure that homes built in Butte’s frigid climate have the greatest possible degree of low-income involvement in the design process and the highest affordable level of energy efficiency investments. The Network has provided design and architecture services as an in-kind donation to the project.
The Network has also embarked on a neighborhood organizational process to produce a detailed master neighborhood plan to enable the district to replace the housing rehab funding needed to keep a modest, but critically important level of housing repair and improvement going, as well as new construction through Habitat and other nonprofit housing development organizations in Butte. The Network has involved all programs with funding support to offer the neighborhood, including weatherization, low-income energy assistance, lead abatement, transportation and the community action agency, Human Resources Council Dist. XII.
The institutional change sought through this project is to organize residents to develop a housing development program for the neighborhood that highlights occupant action, construction by owner-builders and Habitat involvement to spread scarce housing dollars as far as possible. In the last two years, the city-county has abandoned its own housing rehab program and has told the Network and Habitat that it does not plan to offer any rehab programs in the foreseeable future.
Butte’s 1994 housing study showed a strong need for low-cost new construction of housing units, as well as neighborhood redevelopment and urban “homesteading.” The first phase of the project is to support the construction of 10 new resource-efficient homes in the neighborhood, and create a long-term program to redevelop housing to be controlled by low-income residents in place of the abandoned housing rehab program. Two of the ten new Habitat homes are completed and seven more were started in 1997.
The Network has designed and implemented a homeowner education course in partnership with Habitat, and has graduated more than 50 local residents in the last two years. The course prepares low-income families to be good partner families for Habitat or for other programs. While families are better prepared for homeownership, the program is developing housing that represents a dramatic improvement in the way housing is built. We are looking at a model program that delivers substantial improvements in efficiency – at least 50 percent more efficient than current practice to ensure that the homes remain affordable over time.
Funds donated to the Network will support the continued organization of local low-income residents into a functional neighborhood housing organization to oversee and control a housing development and rehab program for the neighborhood. Funds will support only the Network’s direct action on this project, action that has not been funded by any outside party to date. While the Network has been successful in raising funds for Habitat and its program partners and creating a high degree of professional volunteer involvement locally, lack of funds for creating organizational and institutional change and program development threatens to stop the Network’s effort on this project. Your help is needed now.