Non-Profit Gives Ex-Cons Deconstruction Opportunities

Deconstruction Efforts Spurred by Nonprofit Prison Safety Net ProgramA Minneapolis non-profit that offers former inmates a hand up after they have served their time is moving into the world of commercial “deconstruction,” after a decade of success with similar residential projects. Rather than simple demolition, the crews employed by Better Futures Minnesota carefully remove a wide range of materials that might normally wind up in a landfill. Building materials from sheetrock to studs, bricks, cabinets, major appliances, plumbing and lighting fixtures are carefully removed, cleaned, repaired and made available for reuse and recycling.

The program is impressive; Hennepin County and local cities have used their services and view it as a “triple win” as well as an environmental benefit. Participants learn new skills, are given a safety net after their release from prison, and are required to find “real” employment following their experience with Better Futures. Deconstruction is one of four paths offered by the non-profit; others are appliance recycling, janitorial services and property maintenance. Municipalities and organizations benefit from the service, and usable materials are returned to the marketplace rather than being tossed in the trash.

Growing Opportunities

Today, there are 42 men involved in the program. But, since 2007, more than 800 have been enrolled. It’s a good news story that offers opportunities for those who need some encouragement to regain a place in society; it provides a service for those who are in the process of rehabbing or renovating old buildings, and it helps the environment.

Some materials are shined up and repaired, ready to be resold at the organization’s ReUse Warehouse on Minnehaha Ave. Big sellers include hardwood flooring, cabinets and appliances. Other building materials, including bricks and concrete pavers, are sold directly from the deconstruction sites, and they are quickly snapped up, according to Thomas Adams, the non-profit’s president and CEO.

Nearly half of Better Futures’ annual $1.4 million revenue is derived from the deconstruction business, but the work of the non-profit is also supported by investors, as well as both private and public funding.

Although deconstruction is more time consuming than total demolition, the cities that have paid for such services look at the benefits rather than strictly counting the dollars. It is not cheap, however. Hennepin County subsidizes the organization $9,000 for private home deconstruction and double that amount for publicly-owned homes. Owners must pay any fees above $9,000, according to County Supervisor Paul Kroening, but they also receive substantial tax credit. The subsidies were initiated to help make the process more sustainable, he notes. Richfield recently paid Better Futures to deconstruct homes to make way for a road project.

Reducing Waste

“More than 80 percent of the 1.6 million tons of construction and demolition waste was landfilled in 2013,” an amount that exceeds “more than traditional household and commercial waste,” according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. It is at least partially because of the growing volume of construction waste that the efforts of Better Futures are viewed favorably by local government authorities. The organization was recognized as a 2017 winner in the Sustainable Business Category by Environmental Initiative, another Minneapolis-based non-profit dedicated to building partnerships that focus on environmental problems.

The diverse list of partnerships created by Better Futures Minnesota was cited as “extremely innovative, bringing together stakeholders from the city, county, state, and more in a coordinated effort” for a positive approach to sustainability. In addition, the effort was lauded for its positive effect on the lives of men, predominantly African Americans, who require training in skills that can lead to certification and employment in a growing green economy.

By moving from strictly residential deconstruction into the commercial realm, the organization hopes to be able to expand its services, both to the building community and to the men it trains—securing a better future for everyone.

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