Welfare recipients renovate homes in pilot program

Two participants in the Sweat Equity program review a plan.

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray launched an unusual new jobs program Monday: It hires welfare recipients to renovate abandoned homes.

The program, which has been aptly named "sweat equity," involves 12 homeless or formerly homeless residents of the District who are receiving benefits as part of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

The participants renovate vacant D.C. housing, starting with two apartment buildings in this pilot program. The goal is to teach participants skills that could then lead to higher-paying jobs.

“This is going to help people get back to work, to be able to have the dignity of being able to earn a wage every day,” Gray said.

Michael Jackson is one of the first to participate in the program. He lost his job at a local lumber company last year. The hardest part for the single father of two was not giving Erin, 8, and Michael, 7, the future they dreamed of.

“I wasn't out of the fight,” Jackson said.

When he and the other participants finish renovating the two apartment buildings, they'll be able to live in them.

“They just can't wait for daddy to get a place where I can cook, and they can sit down and enjoy themselves,” Jackson said.

“We're going to make sure everything is good, we're not going to forget to insulate our own place and stuff like that, so I'm excited,” said Jeremiah Williams, another program participant.

Participants have learned the basics of electrical, plumbing, and carpentry work. Enough, they hope, to get them another job after this one. The Sweat Equity pilot program is part of an effort to redesign the TANF program to build skills for recipients and transition from welfare to self-sufficiency.

“I'm glad for this opportunity -- and it's gonna get better,” said Jackson.