New homes restore hope in once-blighted community

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The Greenville News (South Carolina)
By: Angelia Davis
October 10, 2010

A West Greenville neighborhood that Marilyn Stephens at one time would never drive through at night has become the place where she joyfully resides.

Stephens lives in one of the 20 new Charleston-style duplex rentals built in the Queen Street area as part of a revitalization effort resulting from a partnership between the Homes of Hope and the city of Greenville.

Along with the duplexes are new streets lined with sidewalks and trees and seven new single-family houses for affordable homeownership opportunities.

Gone are all traces of former duplexes that some say were an anchor to the drug and gang-related crimes that had cast a dark shadow over the community.

Before, it "was not a place I would consider living," Stephens said.

That is one reason why Homes of Hope didn't just plant houses there. The organization made a commitment to cultivate a revived community.

"Our philosophy is about helping the families, but we saw way beyond that when we started working with the neighborhood association and the city to see the benefits of these other things," said Don Oglesby, executive director of Homes of Hope, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide safe, affordable housing for low-income and homeless people.

Homes of Hope adopted the West Greenville area in 2002. But when the organization first started building houses there, the duplexes would stick out like a sore thumb, Oglesby said.

"Those were the worst looking houses in the neighborhood," he said.

"Every neighborhood association meeting I went to, they (residents) would always say, 'When are y'all (the city) going to do something' because 'it's terrible,'" Oglesby said.

Ginny Stroud, community development administrator for the city of Greenville, said the city's master plan included redeveloping the property which was "dilapidated and functionally out of date."

Oglesby said he started praying about the duplex situation, saying, 'Lord, I think we're supposed to do something about it. Sure enough, I was hearing that from Him."

Oglesby said the city and the West Greenville Neighborhood association already knew what they wanted. He said Homes of Hope just implemented their vision.

"It had stuff like not just bringing in new houses, it had getting rid of blight and getting rid of dead-end cul-de-sac areas where crime tended to happen," he said.

"The city said, 'We'll help you. We'll build the roads and open up these areas if you'll bring the houses in.' So, we learned how to do the community development way beyond the housing where we actually saw the needs of the neighborhood."

Most Homes of Hope projects, from conceptual idea to completion, take about two years and cost about $1.25 million. This one, Oglesby said, not only took five years but cost more than $3 million.

"Every possible hurdle, obstacle that you could encounter, we had to encounter with that project," he said.

The result, though, was "a real gateway into the community," Stroud said. "It's a great example of bringing together good quality rental with homeownership opportunities, which was what the community really wanted to see."

As part of the renewal, the duplexes in question became Kings View Pointe.

Oglesby said, "As a Christian organization, we wanted to have two connotations. We have the Kings View Pointe as far as God's view, and so it's a cool name change to reflect what we see is happening out there," he said.

"Lives of people are being changed because of the changes to the housing and the neighborhood."

Stephens is among residents benefiting from the change. She applied for a home in the neighborhood after her Section 8 apartment failed inspection and she had to move. Around the same time, she learned her daughter had cancer.

"We were really desperate and being on Section 8, I had a lot of doors shut in my face because there's such a stigma with people on Section 8," Stephens said. "They accepted me due to my circumstance. It was really a blessing."

Stephens said her new home is a place where she feels a part of a community.

"Sometimes I sit outside and you don't see any cars, you don't hear any people, you look at the stars. It's amazing," she said. "In the middle of an urban neighborhood, you can see the stars so brightly."

Groups that have helped Homes of Hope in the revitaliziation include the state Housing Finance and Development Authority, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development, Greenville Local Development Corp., First Savers Bank, Regents Bank, Carolina Legacy Trust, Bank of America, The Graham Foundation, The Jolley Foundation, F.W. Symmes Foundation, Quinn Satterfield Builders, CCAD Engineering, Wood Construction Co., Vaughn Excavating, the Triune Mercy Center, the Goodwill Foundation, and the Greenville County Human Relations Commission.

Homes of Hope recently was awarded a $250,000 equity equivalent investment loan from Wells Fargo for predevelopment expenses for projects that provide affordable housing in the Greenville area through new construction as well as rehabilitation, the bank announced.

Homes of Hope will focus those funds in West Greenville, where Oglesby said there are plans to build 50-60 more houses in the next seven years as well as get rid of other blighted areas.

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This page contains a single entry by CFED published on October 11, 2010 3:50 PM.

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