FOUNTAIN PARK – It isn’t every day that developers work hand-in-hand with current residents.
However, that’s exactly what was framed this past week in the Fountain Park and Lewis Place neighborhoods.
Park Place Housing and Economic Development joined its efforts with Rebuilding Together. The two community-oriented nonprofits launched their multi-year free home repair service in the two neighborhoods.
Their plan is to prevent displacement, ensuring that longtime residents are able to keep their homes and improve them as the area improves.
Along with getting home repairs, residents were able to meet with banks, who had booths in Fountain Park. They were able to meet with community-minded bankers and learn about the specifics of getting qualified for home repair loans.
“This was great. They’re putting forth an effort to help people who can’t afford to have their homes fixed and brought up to code,” said longtime Fountain Park neighborhood resident Clara Washington.
Perhaps none of the residents was as pleased as Annette Smith. Because most of the homes surrounding Fountain Park are in such disrepair that they are unsafe for volunteers, her house was the only one that qualified.
Her home received some much-needed help.
Volunteer workers caulked and updated tile in her kitchen and painted three rooms, including the wall leading to her second floor. There was some updating in the basement. Safety rails were installed in her bathtub, and carbon monoxide detectors were placed throughout the home.
Smith said she was at once excited and in disbelief.
“I said, ‘Ain’t nobody going to come and help me, this is too good to be true, there must be a catch,’” said Smith, who has lived in the neighborhood all her life and is now living on a disability income.
“It’s like a dream come true. I am so grateful and so thankful,” she said, sitting on her front porch as volunteers worked on her home.
“It’s important for our community to know that they have voice when there is a development in the area,” said Pamela McLucas, interim president of Park Place Housing and Economic Development.
“Today shows the community that they don’t have to be scared of losing their homes, because the free home repair offers security, and the fear of displacement and gentrification can be minimized,” McLucas added.
Across the street, in the park, residents met with bankers.
“I wanted all of the residents to have access to what these financiers have to offer so that all of these homes can be stabilized to match the development that’s coming,” said Lisa Potts, Housing and Human Services Committee chair for Park Place Housing and Economic Development.
Master developer Kevin Bryant, president of Kingsway Development, wouldn’t have it any other way. His development company worked with the Park Place community housing arm and Rebuilding Together.
Bryant, a community advocate and longtime Fountain Park business owner who is developing in the area, said it was important to him that homeowners could keep up with investment and development in the area.
Otherwise, Bryant said, as appraisal values begin to change, there will be $200,000 homes sitting next to a homeowner who can’t even afford to get their front porch fixed.
“So, I can ignore that as a developer; or as Kevin Bryant, the person who always worked in the community, I want you to keep up, because if you don’t, at the end of the day, I failed,” Bryant said. He added that he had hoped more houses could have been repaired.
Michael Stevenson, senior vice president of Royal Bank, said he believed that “owner-occupied housing is essential for the long-term neighborhood stability and economic growth.”
Robyn Heidger, senior vice president of Strategic Alliances and Inclusion at Enterprise Bank and Trust, said that the work that Rebuilding Together and Park Place were doing to make homes more efficient and safe for families in our region was something she could support.
18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd agreed.
“This is beautiful,” he said. “These neighborhoods are on the move, and they’re making them even more beautiful.”