TAMPA — Marde and Vernon Johnson live in a Tampa Heights house built before World War I that needs a new roof, fresh paint, a new driveway, a ramp up to the front porch and a bigger, handicapped-accessible bathroom.
He's disabled and she needs back surgery, so they can't do the work themselves. Their current bathroom is so small that Mrs. Johnson, who is a foot shorter than her husband, must balance with one foot on the toilet and the other on the edge of the bathtub just to help him wash his hair. For years, she applied for every housing rehab program she could.
"I could not figure out how we were going to get this house back in shape, or at least get it safe," she said.
Then last month she learned that Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay had added her home to its project list. And the makeover is possible because the nonprofit group is getting a $300,000 grant from Wells Fargo.
On Monday, the bank came to the Johnsons' front yard to announce $800,000 in grants to six local nonprofit groups that promote home ownership or neighborhood revitalization. Along with Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, Wells Fargo also is giving:
• $175,000 to the Tampa Bay Black Business Initiative Fund.
• $150,000 to Volunteers of America.
• $75,000 to Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.
• $50,000 each to the University of South Florida Small Business Development Center and the MacDonald Training Center.
The agencies said the funds would bolster programs aimed at benefitting neighborhoods, individual homeowners and local businesses.
"We are only going to be as strong and as healthy as all of the parts of our community," said Lois Gaston, board chairwoman for Volunteers of America Florida. The group will use the grant to support affordable rental housing for economically challenged veterans, individuals and families and will renovate homes of at least two elderly veterans.
Jose Garcia, executive director for Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, said the $300,000 will allow the agency to renovate at least 25 owner-occupied homes and acquire and rehabilitate five vacant, bank-owned properties for sale to first-time home buyers. The organization needs to match the grant on a 2-for-1 basis with cash, donated supplies, volunteer work or other in-kind contributions.
The grants are part of Wells Fargo's $7 million NeighborhoodLIFT program to help local housing initiatives.
Richard Danielson can be reached at Danielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403.