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How Area Leaders Partnered to Protect Homes in One Birmingham Community

From left: Mark Fowler, acting commissioner of the Alabama Department of Insurance; Rich Bielen, CEO of Protective Life Corporation; Barbara Thomas, president of the Norwood neighborhood association; Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin; City Councilor J.T. Moore and Roy Wright, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. (Ryan Michaels, The Birmingham Times)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Standing outside of her home in Birmingham’s Northside community on Thursday, Barbara Thomas, President of the Norwood Neighborhood Association, said she’s seen the problems some of her neighbors have experienced with their roofs.

“We had residents, that it was literally raining in their home. They were displaced. They either had to stay on another part of their home, or had to stay with other family members,” Thomas said.

Many of those neighbors have now had their roofs replaced under a program, called “Protecting Good: Strengthen, Repair and Protect” (SRP), where anyone in the Northside neighborhoods of Druid Hills, Evergreen, Fountain Heights, Norwood and Central City can receive up to $10,000 for a roof replacement, with potentially more money in repairs.

“This program gave [neighbors] the opportunity to stay in their home,” said Thomas. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been able to replace their roof,” she added.

Inside the Fountain Heights Recreation Center, Mayor Randall Woodfin said more than 65 homeowners in the Northside community have had their homes repaired or their roofs restored and that community revitalization is not limited to building new homes and “removing blight.”

A total of 171 homeowners are currently set to receive home improvements under a partnership that includes the city, Protective Life Corporation, Neighborhood Housing Services and Habitat for Humanity Greater Birmingham, according to the mayor.

“We need to make sure that as a program, we can support existing homeowners, particularly our seniors … who’ve been living in our neighborhoods, historic neighborhoods, for 20, 30, 40 years,” Woodfin said.

Homeowners in the Northside neighborhoods can also receive further repair services related to wind and water damage that may have come as the result of a worn roof.

Woodfin said the program worked on a number of level, starting with Protective CEO Rich Bielen doing something “different.”

“Oftentimes, a corporate partner can come into an area and say, ‘This is what we’re going to do.’ That did not happen. Rich got out of his office and got out of his suitcoat, and we walked the streets of this footprint, took the time to listen to neighborhood officers. We took the time to listen to neighborhood residents,” Woodfin said.

Bielen said he’s a “big believer in relationships and collaboration and communication.”

“And it was that communication, the effort to talk to people, to see and hear, [which] allowed this program to work,” Bielen said.

The initiative began in 2021, the same year that Protective Stadium opened in the Druid Hills neighborhood.

Roy Wright, president and CEO of the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS) said the work done through the SRP initiative is good for homeowners in multiple ways.

“What’s happened is we have changed the trajectory of families by making that investment on the front side. Our research leads us down the path [that says] the most important part of the home is the roof. If you don’t have a roof over your head, you don’t have a home, and as those corrode over time, you put yourself in vulnerability,” Wright said.

Public-private partnerships like Protecting Good serve as the consistent “blueprint” for how successful cities “accelerate growth and progress for the citizens they serve,” Woodfin said.