Rundown home gets safety overhaul under federal grant

WENATCHEE — Visitors to 827 Cascade St. are greeted by the crumbling front stairs and broken retaining walls that hold back nothing but hard, sun-beaten dirt and rocks.

The boxy, flat-roofed home at one time housed a neighborhood barbershop and looks like it also may have once been a store. But now it is a sad-looking house, with a damaged entryway, an overhang that could fall down, unfinished rooms, water damage from a leaking roof, and asbestos siding that is starting to come off.

To the city of Wenatchee, this is the 44th — and possibly the last — house to be repaired through its Housing Rehabilitation Program, a federally funded effort that helps low-income homeowners make essential safety repairs.

To Norman and Catherine Olsen, this is home.

Over 30 years, they raised their three daughters here, and now live in retirement with their dog and three cats. They tend a neat garden of vegetables and fruit trees in the backyard.

The home hasn’t always looked so bad. When the couple bought the house in 1985, they were attracted by its solid, rough-hewn wood foundation and large yard. But the 84-year-old house slowly fell into disrepair since Norman was crippled by health problems. He had his first heart attack when his youngest daughter was just 7. He suffered a more damaging one a month later that left two of his arteries damaged beyond repair, Catherine said. Then he developed an aneurysm in the back wall of his heart. Now 78, he also has nerve damage in his left hand that makes it difficult to lift even a coffee mug, and is nearly blind in one eye from an optical stroke.

“He’s just not able to get out there and do a lot around the house,” she said. “One project can take him several days.”

Norman has been on a fixed income — first disability and then Social Security — for years.

With her husband unable to work, Catherine said, she found jobs where she could, working in packing sheds and then at Craft Warehouse for 14 years before retiring in 2009. Now 67, she has knee problems that make it hard for her to walk much.

In the spring of 2011, a city code enforcer came to their back fence. The city was trying to clean up a large swath of South Wenatchee. Residents were asked to throw away garbage, cut down overgrown weeds and haul away junker cars. The Olsons were asked to remove some garbage and debris from their yard, which they did.

Code enforcer Stacey Burts also noted that the house had structural damage. He talked with one of the Olsens’ daughters, who was visiting at the time, and she told her parents about the program.

Workers in white protective suits have been stripping off the asbestos siding. They’ve also removed the front steps and started work on the unfinished space that once housed the barbershop. The contract also will replace all the windows, fix the water damage in the couple’s bedroom, replace the front steps and some interior steps, and remove the dilapidated overhang over the front door.

Since the housing program pays only to fix problems that are unsafe, the Olsens are responsible for any painting or other cosmetic improvements.

The work will cost about $40,000 and is funded entirely by a federal Housing and Urban Development grant. Though it is technically a loan, the Olsens won’t have to pay it back unless they sell the house.

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