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04Dec

Home Rehabilitation Program Plants Seeds of Pride in the Slate Belt

The Morning Call

Jeff and Judy Travers have had little time — and money — to worry about the little things before they became big things.

Their home on Northampton Street in Bangor is the only house they ever bought together. In 1986, they were attracted to the charm of a nearly 100-year-old home. They had two kids already, and they would have two more.

So what if they were buying from a used car salesman? Interest rates weren’t what they are now, and it felt like houses were going quickly enough that they needed to steal this one. It passed inspection.

While ripping up the bathroom floor a couple summers ago, Jeff — a career in construction behind him — discovered nightmare after nightmare. Asbestos in the heating system. Electrical wiring surrounding the plumbing system. Joists missing in the second floor.

“I guess if you had a big money pot, you’d just get these things taken care of,” Judy said. “But we raised our kids and just moved on.”

Outside, the framework beneath the porch was rotting, and wood-paneled walls facing the street were tearing apart at the bottom. But Jeff had retired, and Judy, since 2015, had been dealing with treatments for her stage 4 lung cancer.

“I just couldn’t figure out a solution,” Jeff said.

“And then this came along.”

On the surface, $8,000 worth of improvements to the exterior of the Travers’ home may not seem like a solution, both for the home and for the neighborhood. But it is a catalyst — one that Slate Belt Rising, a six-year revitalization initiative that launched last year, hopes inspires other property owners to spruce up their own environs and turn the neighborhood into a more attractive, and thus economically viable, place to live.

Slate Belt Rising, a program of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, secured the contractors and the loan for facade work for the Traverses, forgivable after five years as long as they continue to live in the home.

Around them, the exteriors of several homes are surrendering to the elements, green overgrowth hiding the misshapen concrete steps that lead up to them. Facing newly constructed duplexes on one end of the street is an unoccupied duplex with boarded windows and chipped paneling.

“This is what a lot of people associate Bangor with,” said Stephen Reider, director of Slate Belt Rising, who grew up in neighboring Roseto.

The goal is to change that association with a simple domino effect: target residential and commercial properties for low-cost facade improvements and provide the incentive for others to follow. Officials acknowledge, though, that such a domino effect — in a low population-density region such as the Slate Belt — is not so simple. Definitions of success are difficult to pin down, and improvement will take time to measure.

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