At No Cost, RTLI Provides Safer Homes for “Forgotten People” on Long Island

By Maggie Cai and Yawen Tang

Seth, who asked not to be fully named for privacy reasons, used to sit alone on the edge of his porcelain bathtub with a gray bucket filled with water and a towel. This was how the 57-year-old used to bathe before Rebuilding Together Long Island (RTLI) came to his home and began repairs on October 12. They started by replacing his faucet and showerhead and installed a grab bar in the bathroom.  

Seth lives with his black cat on top of a small hill in a quaint log cabin styled home on Bellerose Avenue in Sound Beach. He is a calm, private man whose diabetes, among other disabilities, have left him immobile in his small home without work and a limited income. Rebuilding Together Long Island finished the repairs for his house earlier this week.  

RTLI is a nonprofit organization that helps to relieve low-income homeowners who are elderly, veterans, disabled, or families with children, of the hardships caused by living in a home that is in desperate need of repair.

“My house was in disrepair and I’m a disabled person and can’t get around very easily,” Seth said. “I couldn’t afford to have these repairs done, and I couldn’t do it myself because I’m not mobile so it’s important for anyone in that situation to know what options are available.”

Ninety-nine percent of RTLI is funded through foundations, banks and private donations, Barbara Nilsen, President of Rebuilding Together Long Island, said. The Slomo and Cindy Silvian Foundation has given them $77,000 since 2011, Daniel Komansky, the president of the foundation, said.

RTLI can do approximately $2,500 worth of work on a single house. “We can always use more donations because there are times when we have to leave a job when the budget is used up,” Barry Macrae, a volunteer, said.

The Long Island median household income is down 8 percent since 2008 according to the latest Long Island Index report. “Poor in hard terms is around $25,000, but approximately 30 percent of our clients are between $10,000 to $26,000,” Nilsen said.

“Many times, repairs are basic electrical and plumbing jobs that the clients can no longer afford, so they no longer use a sink, or an outlet of sometimes even the toilet,” Paul Theisen, a member of the Board of Directors of RTLI, said.

RTLI receive requests from clients over the phone and a Nassau or Suffolk county supervisor of home visitors call the prospective clients to gather more information and explain the documents that will be needed to determine eligibility. Clients need to provide a copy of their property tax receipt for proof that they own the home, their social security and documents that will help determine if they meet the financial requirement. A home visitor will visit the home and process the documents. Then the client will fill out an application and once approved, receive a home visit to evaluate the necessary repairs.

The financial requirement for one person in the household is $40,000 or less. Seth had to meet this requirement to be approved. “We received about 250 prospective clients over the phone and we’ve done 150 of those as home visits which have been approved,” Nilsen said.

Tim Kidder, Barry and Paul are the volunteers who have been working on Seth’s home. They work two days a week for around seven hours a day and completed their final repair on Seth’s home on Monday, which was rebuilding the stairs that led up to the front door.

“I like helping people who genuinely need it and everyone involved is someone I am proud to know,” Tim Kidder said. “We’re all from different past employments and bring different skills,” Macrae said. “It’s a good feeling each day to know that we helped someone that needed it and we all feel and believe it’s good to give back.”

“I find that what we do is never enough but often does provide ‘forgotten’ people a little hope and it is hope that drives us all,” Theisen said.