Since 1977, COAP, Inc. based in Harlan, Kentucky, has been working to provide affordable, safe and energy efficient housing to moderate, low, and very low income families in Harlan, Bell, and Leslie Counties.
The non-profit was established as a grassroots interfaith relief effort in response to a devastating flood in Harlan County. Since, COAP has supported several hundred families in purchasing their own homes.
With 67 percent of homes in Eastern Kentucky built before 1990, and 25 percent being mobile homes, the region has an aging and highly inefficient housing stock. COAP has a multi-pronged approach to improve housing in the region.
A key aspect of their approach is designing and building new homes. Families then purchase the homes through COAP, who connect them with a home loan fund and/or financial institutions, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), USDA Rural Development, and the Bank of Harlan. New homes typically cost about $50,000 and monthly payments typically range from $150 to $300 with interest between 0 and 1 percent.
COAP also purchases existing houses, repairing and remodeling the homes to meet code standards and energy efficiency standards, and reselling the “like new” homes. For those who homeownership is not yet an option for, they also offer rentals and rental assistance.
Their largest program is their low-income home repair program, where they make key repairs and energy efficiency upgrades for residents. The repairs typically range between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, but some can be as low as $20.
Several years ago, COAP teamed up Fahe and other housing organizations to create the Appalachia Heat Squad. Since its inception, the Heat Squad has served over 100 households with energy audits and upgrades, in addition to loaning out more than $90,000 in energy efficient repair funds.
In 2017, the Mountain Association worked with COAP to offer a New Energy Internship, with the goal of COAP hiring the intern as a full-time staff member to, in part, manage their Heat Squad program.
Funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Mountain Association’s New Energy Internship offers former coal industry or out-of-work individuals six-month internships to train on assessing building and homes for energy efficiency issues, implementing energy efficiency upgrades, and on renewable energy systems. This work includes coordinating complicated retrofits with contractors, and implementing smaller retrofits, particularly in lighting and duct sealing.
Randall Howard, a Harlan County native, was ultimately selected for this internship. COAP hired him after he graduated in 2018 and he now serves an energy auditor and carpenter there.
Howard easily connects with homeowners he meets, who sometimes feel timid or embarrassed about having someone look around their home. Results make a huge different. Randall describes how one homeowners bill was cut in half, and their life tremendously improved.
“We went in, it didn’t have insulation under the floor, and the roof was leaking. We put a new roof on, insulation under the floor, a new heat pump. I had to go back later to test everything out. I walked in and there’s an 80-year-old man. He stood up, walked over to me, and gave me a hug. He said, ‘We’ve been here 15 years and I’ve never been as comfortable as we are now. You’ve made this house better, so much more comfortable.’”
COAP largely relies on volunteers to lower the cost of housing and home repairs. Many volunteers fall in love with area and return each year for the beauty of the mountains and warmth of the people.
In need of an updated website to better tell their story to both attract more volunteers and increase online donations, and better serve their clients, COAP approached the Mountain Association about assistance to work with a marketing consultant. The Mountain Association connected them with Symbiosis Media Group out of London, Kentucky. Their rebrand and website was completed in Fall 2019.
Owning or improving an individual’s home can open doors to many other improvements, including individual health, personal pride and well-being. Homeownership and safe homes are vital to building strong, resilient communities in Eastern Kentucky. Check out COAP’s new website here and please donate if you can.
Note: During COVID-19, COAP, Inc. does not have as many volunteers due to spring break and other trips being canceled. They rely on volunteers to reduce the cost of their homes and services, plus volunteer labor hours are used to match federal and state dollars, thus bringing more federal money into the organization and allowing COAP to serve more people. Online donations are especially critical during this crisis.