Kurt Keller is a one-man construction crew, engineering consulting firm, volunteer coordinator, landscaper, trainer and computer guru at Working In Neighborhoods (WIN). Over the past 11 years, Keller has shared his expertise with more than 80 low-income families to help them to realize their dream of purchasing their own homes.
As a civil engineer, Keller supervised the construction of bridges all around the world. Upon retirement, the German native was compelled to use his knowledge and experience to benefit the less fortunate in his adopted Cincinnati home. His dedication to helping others led him to volunteer at WIN.
Home ownership, Keller feels, is an important weapon in the battle to revitalize neighborhoods. Statistics prove that communities with high home ownership rates generally experience less crime and neighbors become more involved in civic life. In addition, higher home ownership rates help foster a sense of community among neighbors and these neighborhoods in turn become desirable areas in which to live. At the request of communities, WIN renovates housing stocks or builds new homes to be purchased by low-income home owners. WIN has reclaimed former crack houses and built new homes on blighted land in order to improve the neighborhood.
Working in Neighborhoods works to rebuild 13 communities in Cincinnati's Millcreek Valley. WIN has a two-pronged, grassroots approach to helping communities rebuild by first organizing the community and then working to develop the neighborhood. WIN supports neighborhood residents in their efforts to rescue their communities from the grips of poverty, crime, environmental dangers, declining housing stock and officials' seeming indifference to their plight. WIN helps these families by building or renovating quality, affordable, energy-efficient homes which they sell to first-time home owners. WIN has also worked with local lending institutions to provide affordable financing for these homes.
Keller has been instrumental in keeping the purchase prices for the WIN homes affordable. As WIN's construction manager, he conducts pre-purchase inspections of property WIN wants to develop and prepares a feasibility study that includes estimates for repairs and the amount of work to be done. He writes the specifications for WIN's projects, reviews contractors' bids and supervises the contractors' work. Keller has also trained WIN staff in how to work with contractors.
Keller has made it possible for WIN to involve volunteers in its home development efforts. He single-handedly designed jobs for volunteers, such as demolition, landscaping, painting and some simple carpentry. Keller recruited more than 100 volunteers to perform these duties. He is the 'CEO' of the Downhill Construction Company—a group of retired men who volunteer weekly, working on WIN's housing projects. Keller recruited the volunteer crew, feeds them and keeps them busy. He also supervises the many groups who perform valuable one-time projects at WIN.
Keller is also responsible for WIN's ability to expand its development scope from strictly renovating older homes to include building new homes. When they were beginning their first new construction project, the architect who was working with WIN had to quit. Without missing a beat, Keller stepped in and supervised the project through to completion. Since that first project, Keller has supervised all of WIN's construction, amounting to some 39 homes.
Additionally, Keller trains new homeowners in tasks that will help them maintain their homes. He has conducted on-the-job training sessions in landscaping, driveway and sidewalk repair, and routine maintenance. Keller's work has directly impacted the 80 low-income families who were able to make their home ownership dreams come true. Indirectly, his work has impacted the 18,000 people who live in the neighborhoods by improving the appearance of the community, improving the housing stock, raising the value of the surrounding homes and reducing crime.