A local housing-for-homeless nonprofit will give its tenants a new set of tools in their toolbox while allowing them to gain a new lease on life.

Well House Executive Director Tami VandenBerg said this month that her organization received a two-year, $265,125 grant from the Wege Foundation to launch a twofold green building plan.

The nonprofit will use the funds to buy and renovate two abandoned homes and turn them into LEED-certified residences — and it will hire tenants from its current Well House properties to learn green building techniques and carry out the renovations.

“We are extremely grateful to the Wege Foundation for this generous grant,” VandenBerg said. “Our first goal as an organization is to move people out of homelessness; our next goal is to do anything else possible to make our tenants’ lives better and more meaningful. We think green jobs on-site and green job training will be an excellent option for our tenants who are interested.”

VandenBerg said the new houses will cost between $80,000 and $100,000 to buy and renovate. Well House will use the rest of the grant funds to provide training and employment for eligible tenants.

The nonprofit currently owns 14 houses on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, three of which are being rehabilitated and one of which is being converted to LEED-certified status. The two new homes will bring Well House’s property count to 16.

Well House already employs some of its tenants to work on construction projects, but this program will expand capacity and offer more specialized training.

“(We have) between five and 10 tenants at any given time working on our current houses, but we’ll be able to scale that up a bit with these funds,” VandenBerg said. “We’ll probably have between 10 and 20 to start.”

She said Travis VanLuyn, Well House director of construction, will hire the employees mainly from the existing pool of workers who have shown aptitude for construction.

The grant will fund sustainability workshops for tenants and neighbors, peer-to-peer mentoring and connecting tenants to GRCC’s Residential Construction Program. Training topics will include lead safety, dust containment, zero-waste goals, renewable energy sources and more.

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