We strip it down until we find something solidEliminating blight, stabilizing neighborhoods and helping create vibrant communities is what Project:HOMES has been doing for 25 years in central Virginia. Marion Cake, Director of Neighborhood Revitalization, breaks it down to us at a momentous and important event to the company: their 150th house revitalization celebration (nearly 50 in our community). Marion spoke to us about the vision and goals of project:HOMES emphasizing the fact that all the houses which they take on are currently vacant, dispelling the controversial topic of gentrification as the company revitalizes homes for low-income owners and never displaces people to achieve this goal. In addition, it’s not just about the vacant and forgotten houses, project:HOMES also works on occupied housing serving low-income individuals and families by making critical home-safety repairs, accessibility modifications, and implementing energy conservation measures in their homes. Revitalizing homes like the one CHPN attended on 2013 Venable Street is no small undertaking. Built in 1882 and vacant for at least 15 years, time and neglect had a toll on this property. Anne McNeal, Director of Fund Development and Compliance Monitoring, told us how just weeks after purchasing the home, a car drove into the front part of the house! Despite the setback, the Venable St. house took 9 months to complete, longer than others but not uncommon. Kim Jordan, Project Manager, has actually taken on more difficult projects. She is a proud woman who treats these projects like her children and has an intimate knowledge of all the nuances of each of her homes. Her most notable revitalization was, surprisingly, not this one but actually a home on P Street. Imagine having to figure out a way to build an entire new house from foundation while still keeping the original roof for historical purposes. Bowing structural “support beams” (made from flooring components) all had to be replaced while still holding up a roof. It was a dangerous and exciting undertaking. This is what Kim lives for and what project:Homes supports and encourages. There was a palpable energy everywhere you turned and you could tell that these folks are motivated by a strong mission- to improve lives by improving homes. Projects like this one on Venable St. tend to me more costly than the actual value of the property. To make this revitalization possible, Richmond City provides subsidies. Dan Mouer, Project Development Manager at City of Richmond, explained the process which provides assistance to both organizations like Project:HOMES and low-income first time home buyers like Jen Lawhorne, the proud new owner of this new home. Virginia native and long time Church Hill resident, Jen was losing hope on finding a home locally that she could afford.
This wouldn’t be possible without Project:HOMES and Housing Opportunities Made Equal. It’s because of these programs that I’m allowed to buy housing in this area.Jen was able to secure an affordable mortgage option through the Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia, Inc. (HOME) and find a house in the area at an obtainable price. Jen is a multilingual Fulbright Scholar and videographer. She recently came back from working with young refugees in Italy to produce videos about their experiences. Currently, Jen works as a media specialist for Progress Virginia. She has a passion to elevate the voices of Virginians who are fighting for a better future for all. Keenly aware of the changing face of the East End community, Jen expressed some of her concerns regarding local gentrification.
There are a lot of people being displaced in the area. I’m going to do my best to be a responsible community member and to make Richmond a more equitable community.Jen is friendly and easygoing and her new homeowner’s confidence showed as the celebration wrapped up. One of the staff for Project:HOMES asked her if she would like to take the rest of the lunch platter with her to eat later to which she cheekily replied.
You can just put it in my fridge. This is now my home.