Our United Villages, a nonprofit co-founded by Endicott and three other volunteers in 1997, encourages community members to work together to identify and use existing resources to affect positive change in Portland neighborhoods. While the organization places a strong emphasis on its Community Legacy Program, which Endicott says “focuses on individuals and groups throughout our city and our region who are doing things that strengthen the social fabric of their community,” Our United Villages is also well recognized for its ReBuilding Center, a used building materials resource center.
The center’s focus on reuse is not only a philosophy that Endicott grew up with, it’s also one that he believes makes a lot of sense on a local and global scale. “The ReBuilding Center’s function is taking anything that’s reusable—anything from a doorknob to the entire components that make up a structure, home, or building—and diverting those materials that would often go into the waste stream to get them reused,” he explains. “The number one thing that’s causing the greenhouse effect is the manufacturing and processing of materials. So when you reuse things, you’re actually preserving natural resources for future generations. What we’ve been able to do is take what society said was a waste, a liability we’re literally paying millions of dollars every year to throw away, and all of a sudden those same materials are changed from being a liability to actually being an asset to the community through reuse.”
In order to facilitate the acquisition and reuse of building materials, the ReBuilding Center offers several different services to the community. Its DeConstruction Services, which Endicott says were the first of their kind in the nation, provide an affordable and more sustainable alternative to mechanized demolition. “Through deconstruction, you start by taking out the things that went in last when they built the home, like the switch light covers, the lighting, and the molding,” explains Endicott. “Eventually we get to the doors, the cabinets, and windows. Then we hand-dismantle the roof and all the framing, all the way down to the foundation. We usually can recover about 85 percent of the components that make up the building or the home for reuse.” In the end, deconstruction is a benefit to both the property owner and the community, Endicott notes. “The owner gets a tax deductible receipt for the materials, which significantly offsets the cost for deconstructing the building in most cases, and we create six to eight jobs for every one job that stan- dard demolition creates. Plus, when you deconstruct instead of demolish, it’s the equivalent of preserving 33 mature trees or saving 6,000 gallons of clean water.”
In addition to its DeConstruction Services, the ReBuilding Center also sells the reused materials it receives through deconstruction and donation back to the community at 50 to 90 percent off the normal retail price at its North Mississippi Avenue warehouse. “Our goal is to make them affordable to people of all income levels,” says Endicott. “When people get these materials at a fraction of the cost, that leaves more disposable income for them that they can keep in the community.” Available materials range from roofing and lumber, to appliances, to doors and windows. The sale of these items funds the center’s operating costs and allows Our United Villages to make weekly donations to community projects throughout the region. The ReBuilding Center also offers a free pick up service for used building materials as well as a number of classes and workshops to teach community members the skills needed to complete building and reuse projects at home.
With an average of eight tons of material recovered daily and two thousand people visiting the ReBuilding Center each week, Endicott believes that the organization and its mission have truly become part of the social fabric of the city. “In the early years of the organization, we talked about how important it was that we always make sure that we’re serving the community and that every single decision we make should be according to social benefit,” he says. “I think it was around 2009 when I felt like the community had a strong sense of ownership of what’s happening at the center. We kept having people come in and say that they were doing a remodel on their house and a neighbor or somebody walked by and said, ‘Hey, you can’t throw that stuff away, there’s a place that will take it.’ It wasn’t us going out and telling people, it was actually the community telling one another.”