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Agency provides critical home repairs for elderly, disabled

The national nonprofit group Rebuilding Together recently opened an L.A. branch, bringing together skilled laborers and students who aim to repair about 100 homes of the needy this year.

February 22, 2009|Esmeralda Bermudez

It had come down to bathing in a bucket in the rusted bathtub, illuminating every room with flashlights because the electric wiring was shot, and on days when the water heater malfunctioned, Leroy Price and Sunny Robinson would reach for their largest pot and boil water on the stove top.

The 107-year-old Craftsman-style house that has been in Price's family for three generations was in severe disrepair after the roof began to leak a few years ago. Disabled and unable to work, Price felt powerless.

"The house was calling out for help, saying, 'Please, someone do something,' " he said.

On Saturday, Price looked on, giddy and grateful, as help arrived. More than 100 volunteers, a mix of skilled laborers and students, came together on East 41st Place in South Los Angeles to renovate Price's home as part of Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit organization that assists families in dire need of home repairs.

The 20-year-old organization, which operates 200 programs nationwide, has launched a new affiliate to aid the greater Los Angeles area. They plan to renovate about 100 homes this year, said Christina McKay, executive director of the L.A. branch.

Homeowners must make less than $43,000 annually to qualify. The organization also prefers to focus on the elderly, the disabled, veterans and families with children.

"We have plenty of hands waiting for help," said Melissa Flynn, who oversees the organization's national programs. "Now we just need the financial support to make this happen."

Price and two neighbors who qualified for exterior paint jobs were among the first to receive assistance in Los Angeles. With donated supplies and labor, Rebuilding Together completed about $150,000 worth of repairs on the three homes.

Price, a 54-year-old former city maintenance worker, applied for the program hoping he could save his childhood home.

Two decades after being hit by a car, Price still suffers intense pain in his legs. Several years ago, he lost his hearing. Robinson, 53, whom Price describes as his common-law wife, cares for him and the home.

But given the poor condition of the house, there was only so much she could do, Price said. When it rained, water poured into every room, causing extensive water damage and destroying the electrical wiring. Pipelines also were broken, preventing toilets from emptying on their own.

"I was afraid they were going to condemn it," Price said. "I had no money, no way to fix anything."

Neighbors looked on curiously -- some with video cameras -- as volunteers in white shirts streamed in and out of Price's home. Every room was packed with ladders, scaffolding, paint buckets and plywood. They planned to put on a new roof, paint walls, clean the backyard, install new windows and kitchen cabinets and refurbish the floor. In the bathroom, along with other parts of the home, handrails and other supports would be installed to make it easier for Price to get around with his walker.

"I'm ready to walk in there and feel like I felt when I was a child living there with my parents," he said. "With everything brand new."

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esmeralda.bermudez@ latimes.com

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