Restoring homes, hopes Fix-it man: A home maintenance )) worker applies quick repairs with a human touch for his fixed-income and elderly clients.

March 17, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Robert C. Badders drives his Mazda truck into Sharp-Leadenhall in South Baltimore, pulls up at a two-story home and attacks a broken window and unhinged gate in a flurry of fingers.

Mr. Badders fixes with a smile. Between his hammering and his measuring, he offers a soft "Hello," and "Glad you told me about that," and "We'll be back with the window tomorrow," to Mondel Richardson, who lives there with her two children and mother, Monica Taylor.

At first glance, one might notice Bob Badders' shoulder-length blond hair, some of his 30 tattoos or well-ventilated work clothes. But what you remember is his determination to keep moving through the half-dozen repair jobs he's usually juggling. He's in and out of the Taylor home in 40 minutes.

Mr. Badders has a select clientele elderly and disabled homeowners with fixed incomes in South and Southwest Baltimore, Washington Village and Pigtown. He has repaired 20 homes this year at the usual cost to thankful residents of a $25 registration fee. A city block grant and donations help subsidize the program.

He hopes to fix more than 70 homes in 1996 in his role as the entire Home Maintenance Program of the Light Street Housing Corp. Water and termite damage are often adversaries as he goes forth in his vehicle, nicknamed "Truck," to repair roofs, doors, windows, faucets, ceilings, electrical fixtures and an occasional fractured soul. More on that later.

Here's how the program works. Candidates meeting requirements such as being elderly or disabled with fixed incomes call the corporation. Mr. Badders inspects the scene and consults with Ninia Baehr, program coordinator. They decide whether to do the job. "The only stress element in this job," the Vietnam veteran deadpanned, "is the delusion that one day I'll be caught up."

"He's good at this," said Ms. Richardson. "We tell him what needs work. Then he tells us what he'll do." As in some other homes, Mr. Badders found more work than requested. Her mother, Ms. Taylor, had called about a leaky roof. He fixed that, then a broken window and back gate.

"Older people often compromise," said Mr. Badders, 41, of Dundalk. "They don't ask for everything, they ask for one thing. Only a few try to take advantage of me, and that doesn't work.

"Our budget allows us an average ceiling of $75 per job, and I've been under budget for all," he said. On more expensive jobs, the budget is met partly with his handyman skills developed in many jobs.

The Baltimore bachelor has poured concrete, fit pipe, put up siding, worked construction and had other trades using his hands since learning cabinetmaking at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School. He was a combat engineer during the Vietnam War and a civilian seaman working oilers serving military vessels in the Persian Gulf war theater.

That merchant marine service led to the tattoos, mostly covered. "I had available to me the best tattoo parlors in the world."

Also keeping repair costs down and supporting the effort are a $60,000 Community Development block grant, other donated materials and funds and Mr. Badders' tool collection.

The point of this and the work of other low-income housing nonprofit programs in the city is to promote decent, affordable housing so people stay in their homes, said Ms. Baehr, who is also the program's development director.

Mr. Badders' "social work" helps the process, she added. Soothed spirits often accompany his work and explain why Mr. Badders' says he is "happy as a clam" in his job, which he began in December. He is a recovering substance abuser who helps counsel recovering addicts at the South Baltimore homeless shelter.

He experienced the social work aspect of the job at the first house he fixed.

"A lady living alone on Hamburg Street had a tree fall and punch a hole in her kitchen roof. Her electricity was knocked out. She is 82. I came in and she showed me the problem. Then she sat down in a chair and fell asleep.

"While she's sleeping, I put in a drop ceiling and a power line from her kitchen light to a wall switch.

"She woke up and I told her I fixed the ceiling. 'No, you haven't, you just got here', she said. She looked up and saw the ceiling.

"Then she saw the light switch. For years, she had moved her chair to the center of the kitchen every time she had to turn the light on or off. She would get up on the chair and pull the string. Now she went to the switch and stood there, turning it off and on. She started crying and came over and hugged me.

"I said goodbye and had to sit and think in my truck about that. There are two kinds of people. Those who say 'gimme, gimme, gimme' Those who say 'I can't believe this is happening to me thank you.' "

The latter are the people Mr. Badders decided he wanted to work for and with.

"I myself have spent 90 percent of my life taking. I wondered, 'When am I going to be giving?' Now I'm doing what's right for me.

"It isn't like I'm being led by divine inspiration, but it's nice sitting on the other side of the table from these people."

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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