Monday, June 8, 2009

City kicks off National Homeownership Month in Northside

On Thursday, eight houses that have been built or rehabilitated by Cincinnati Northside Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation (CNCURC) and Working in Neighborhoods (WIN) were opened for tours during a City ceremony kicking off National Homeownership Month.

CNCURC is in phase two of its Fergus Street Homeownership Project, a green-focused, market-rate and affordable redevelopment plan designed to boost homeownership and stem foreclosures, vacancies and crime in the area bounded roughly by Pullan Avenue, Knowlton Street, Mad Anthony Street and Langland Street.

Phase one consisted of two new LEED Silver HOME project houses at the corner of Chase Avenue and Fergus Street, replacing McPerry's Foods, a long-time neighborhood crime magnet.

Both of those houses quickly sold.

New president, same direction

Harry Blanton, who first became a homeowner by purchasing a house in Northside, recently replaced Stefanie Sunderland as president of CNCURC.

He said that the non-profit community developer will continue to plug away at the project and will receive a boost from $704,000 in federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding.

"We're going to be working with the City to purchase and renovate ten more homes," Blanton said. "We're going to be working with the City to demolish 22 blighted houses. And so we're going to be creating some new green spaces, we're going to be creating some new opportunities for new construction. So I think there's a big future here in Northside."

Some of that green space includes the reclamation of a CSX railroad right-of-way during the last Great American Cleanup and a $10,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation that will provide new street trees.

And one group, the Urban Agriculturists, has been working with CNCURC to create gardens on vacant properties.

"The really nice thing about it is that they're taking some of the produce that they're growing in those gardens and donating it to CAIN – Churches Active in Northside – for some of the low-income folks so they can have some food."

A WIN-win

WIN Executive Director Sr. Barbara Busch has been around Northside since the early 1970s.

During that time, WIN has completed 49 new or rehabilitated houses in the neighborhood, many of them bank-owned, foreclosed upon properties.

Construction on number 50 will begin next month.

Ten of those houses are along the 4200 block of Fergus Street, and will be sold to first-time homeowners who earn below 80 percent of the area median income, or $52,950 for a family of four, and range in price for between $72,000 and $125,000.

It's a sign that the neighborhood is on its way, Busch said.

"We believe that these are real opportunities for families to live in this community of Northside because we believe in its diversity," she said. "We believe in the value of participating in communities, and so re-stabilizing a neighborhood has always been at the core of the work of Working in Neighborhoods."

Plenty of credit to go around

Northside Community Council President Tim Jeckering said that Mayor Mark Mallory should be credited for much of the City's turnaround.

"In my mind, [he] gets what urban living is all about," he said. "He understands Northside was built as a pedestrian neighborhood, and he has provided a vision for this city that will assure the redevelopment and stability of these neighborhoods for a long time."

"This is such a unique neighborhood," Mallory said, calling Northside a "melting pot community". "It's a diverse community. It's got lots of great shops and restaurants and retail, and great housing stock and, of course, some great people."

Mallory added that it was those great people worked with City departments to help oust the Taliband gang, institute a metal theft pilot program, and boost the City's recycling totals.

He also gave credit to City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. for the success of 2008's Neighborhood Enhancement Program, which decreased the neighborhood's "blight index" by 21 percent and garnered awards from Neighborhoods, USA, the Ohio Conference of Community Development, and the Community Development Corporations Association of Greater Cincinnati.

"This is a neighborhood that is a great example of what happens when you blend the efforts of neighborhood stakeholders, of city government, of institutions, of community councils, of individuals that care and want to get involved," Dohoney said.

Jeckering said that Dohoney is the man who knows how to put Mallory's vision into action.

"He understands communities, he listens to communities," he said. "He understands them to the point that he knows what needs to be done to make them safe and livable for everybody."

But Dohoney reflected most of that credit back to the neighborhood.

"This work is not easy," he said. "It does require commitment. It does require tenacity. This neighborhood has committed and tenacious leadership. And they don't mind telling us when they think we have not done our jobs. But that is how it should be. That helps us be accountable, and it helps us be a better partner."

Previous reading on BC:
Northside CURC to buy vacant City parcel (4/1/09)
Cincinnati may sell surplus parcel to Northside CURC (3/17/09)
Northside CURC seeking donations for third green house (7/31/08)
Inside the Northside HOMEs, 6/24/08 (7/7/08)
Inside the Northside HOMEs (3/13/08)