Procon Development sees profit in abandoned mobile homes
June 6, 2011
RENO, Nev. – Elaine Voigt devotes most of her waking hours to a straightforward mission – finding jobs for convicted felons so that they can stand on their own.
Now Voigt, the founder and director of My Journey Home, is turning to a market-based solution that holds promise to allow the Reno-based nonprofit, too, to stand on its own.
Procon Development, a newly created for-profit affiliate of My Journey Home, plans to put ex-offenders to work on the thousands of abandoned mobile homes around Nevada.
Some of the homes will be torn down and sold as scrap. Others will be refurbished and sold. And some that are in good shape will be sold as they are, says Voigt.
Ralph Smith, president of Development Resource Management Group LLC and a construction consultant in Reno who helped create Procon Development, says there is no shortage of work for the new company.
He estimates that 3,500 to 5,000 abandoned homes are located in Nevada. Procon Development expects that lenders who have foreclosed, mobile home park landlords and county governments will be happy to sell the abandoned homes for a song – or give the title for free – to the group.
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Charles Schwab Bank last week approved a $20,000 grant to My Journey Home to finalize a business plan.
Voigt, who launched My Journey Home 11 years ago, is hopeful that Procon Development can provide a source of funding that’s more stable than reliance on grants for the nonprofit.
And she’s hopeful that the reclamation of abandoned mobile homes can provide jobs for hard-to-place ex-offenders.
Recidivism runs as high as 80 percent among inmates released from Nevada’s prison system. That’s costly, Voigt says, as the state pays $23,000 a year to keep an inmate in low-security and $101,000 a year to keep an inmate behind bars in a high-security prison.
But when offenders are released, the state provides little more than $21 and best wishes.
“That’s what they are going to start their new life with,” Voigt says. Many who don’t have families or support networks in the area quickly end up homeless and return to crime to generate the cash they need to survive.
My Journey Home helps ex-offenders find jobs, providing a bank of computers at its Mill Street office where recently released felons can fill out online job applications.
And Voigt, the nonprofit’s sole paid employee, helps ex-offenders find housing and deal with re-entry issues such as medical supplies. (Diabetics and others who need ongoing medication are provided a month’s supply of the drugs they need when they’re released from prison in Nevada.)
At the same time, Voigt is beating the streets to make sure that employers know about a $2,400 tax credit that’s available when they hire a qualified ex-felon.
And she’s spreading the word about an affordable fidelity-bonding program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor that provides coverage against losses for employers who hire hard-to-place applicants.
(For information on the tax credit contact the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation through http://www.nvdetr.org. For information on fidelity bonds, contact My Journey Home at 284-9495.) My Journey Home finds job placements for about two-thirds of the ex-felons that it counsels, partly because Voigt counsels her job-seekers to keep their sights low.
“You have to want to work,” she tells them. “The best job you can get is a minimum-wage job, and then you can prove yourself and work your way up.”
That’s true, she says, even for the well-trained professionals such as former physicians and entertainers exiting the prison system.
No matter what their background, some ex-offenders counseled by My Journey Home have worked their way up into ownership positions. Others – 18 of them last year alone – take college courses.