Gwinnett, Habitat for Humanity use COVID money to fix home plumbing

061622 Lawrenceville, Ga.: WRAP program specialist Patrick Baez lays down in the tub and works on replacing an old tub faucet at the home of Randy Griffin Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Lawrenceville, Ga.. WRAP, or Water Resources Assistance Program, is part of Habitat for Humanity and offers free plumbing and septic system repairs for low-income homeowners using Covid relief funds. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
061622 Lawrenceville, Ga.: WRAP program specialist Patrick Baez lays down in the tub and works on replacing an old tub faucet at the home of Randy Griffin Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Lawrenceville, Ga.. WRAP, or Water Resources Assistance Program, is part of Habitat for Humanity and offers free plumbing and septic system repairs for low-income homeowners using Covid relief funds. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Randy Griffin, a 50-year-old part-time roadside assistance dispatcher, was preparing to repaint his house near Lawrenceville with his 7-year-old son when he noticed water leaking over his bedroom and out of his garbage disposal. Griffin didn’t know what was wrong or how much the repair would cost.

Three months ago, there might have been no help for him. But a Gwinnett County hotline connected him to the Water Resources Assistance Program (WRAP), a brand-new partnership between the county and Habitat for Humanity that provides plumbing repairs to low-income homeowners using federal coronavirus recovery funds.

The county allocated $1 million this year to the program from American Rescue Plan Act funding, which can be spent on water and sewer infrastructure. An additional $3 million is available to continue the work if demand persists.

“As a taxpayer, it makes me feel good,” said Griffin, who has lived for more than two decades in Gwinnett. “I really needed this at this moment and was able to find some assistance in the county.”

Gwinnett received almost $182 million from last year’s federal relief package. Most of it is being spent on social services. The county dedicated about $19 million to infrastructure improvements, including the WRAP program.

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The partnership repairs water leaks, septic systems and resulting damage to homes, said Jen Welch, director of programs for Gwinnett/Walton Habitat for Humanity. It also retrofits toilets, shower heads and faucets for greater efficiency, reducing water bills.

To qualify, families must own and live in their homes and make no more than 60% the area’s median income. The threshold is about $41,000 for a two-person household or $52,000 for a family of four.

The money that homeowners save empowers them to do more for themselves and the community, said Patrick Baez, program specialist for Gwinnett/Walton Habitat for Humanity.

“Fully functional homes better protect the occupants and add value to overall housing supply in Gwinnett, thus improving the livability of the entire county,” Gwinnett County Grants Manager Kenneth Morris said in an email.

Gwinnett chose to partner with Habitat for Humanity because the organization was already operating A Brush with Kindness, which provides home repairs to seniors and low-income families but does not include plumbing due to funding restrictions, Welch said.

WRAP’s goal is to repair between 80 and 100 homes every year. Since it kicked off in April, almost 20 homeowners’ applications have been approved. The program has budgeted between $500 and $1,250 on supplies for each home so far, not including labor costs, Baez said.

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Habitat for Humanity plans to bring in a contractor to identify the source of the leaks over Griffin’s bedroom and outside where water is pooling from the kitchen. In the meantime, Baez installed more efficient toilets and fixtures in the bathrooms. Habitat for Humanity will also repair water damage to the walls and ceiling and replace the garbage disposal and kitchen sink fixtures.

Griffin said he had a career in sales before he was laid off as the coronavirus pandemic spread. He has been working for about five months in roadside assistance.

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061622 Lawrenceville, Ga.: Home owner Randy Griffin is shown at his home Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Lawrenceville, Ga.. WRAP, or Water Resources Assistance Program, is part of Habitat for Humanity and offers free plumbing and septic system repairs for low-income homeowners using Covid relief funds. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

061622 Lawrenceville, Ga.: Home owner Randy Griffin is shown at his home Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Lawrenceville, Ga.. WRAP, or Water Resources Assistance Program, is part of Habitat for Humanity and offers free plumbing and septic system repairs for low-income homeowners using Covid relief funds. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
061622 Lawrenceville, Ga.: Home owner Randy Griffin is shown at his home Thursday, June 16, 2022, in Lawrenceville, Ga.. WRAP, or Water Resources Assistance Program, is part of Habitat for Humanity and offers free plumbing and septic system repairs for low-income homeowners using Covid relief funds. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

His house, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, was built in 1988. He bought it in 2001.

Now a single father, he was trying to get as much work done on the house as possible last week while his son stayed with a friend. Buckets and bags of plumbing tools and parts lined his living room wall as Baez swapped out shower handles. A constant stream of alerts could be heard from a computer.

“That’s the stock market losing money,” Griffin said. “I don’t have any money in it, but still.”

Griffin said he was about to give up on finding financial assistance for the plumbing repairs. Before he heard about WRAP, he concluded such a resource probably didn’t exist.

“Hopefully the people that need the help can get it and find it,” he said.