Our People, Our Houses, Our Neighborhoods

Courtesy WNDU.com

100 Homes for 500 Families initiative seeks to “develop without displacement”

Neighborhood Resources Connection was in attendance Wednesday evening as approximately 60 people filled the WUBS Studio to observe the South Bend Common Council Community Relations Committee meeting.  Councilwoman Regina Williams-Preston, Committee Chair, kicked off the meeting at 6:00 p.m. and the first 75 minutes was broadcast to WUBS listeners extending the audience to more South Bend neighbors.  Other committee members, Jo Broden and Karen White were in the audience.

The focus of the meeting was the “100 homes, 500 families” initiative introduced by Councilwoman Williams-Preston earlier this year.  The plan calls for the construction of 100 new homes and the rehab of four nearby houses for each new house, thereby serving a total of 500 families.  Joining her to talk about the program were Emmanuel Cannady, a second year PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Notre Dame, Anne Mannnix, President, Neighborhood Development Associates; and José Arevalo, South Bend realtor and developer.

In preparation for this project, Mr. Cannady is working with Karl Nichols, Executive Director of Community Wellness Partners, to conduct a study on “environmental inequities and the effects of perception of self.”  This study will be conducted by trained community-focused data collectors working within those areas identified as suffering the most blight from a lack of community investment.  Partners involved are Community Wellness Partners, Faculty from the University of Notre Dame and IU South Bend, the Community Forum for Economic Justice, and the City of South Bend.

Anne Mannix, whose background is in city planning, recently developed the South Bend Mutual Homes in the neighborhood south of the Charles Martin Youth Center. Those properties form a cooperative with rents ranging from $235-$595 monthly plus utilities.  Building the new houses in this plan would require approximately  $175,000 per 3-bedroom, 2 bathroom house. To make these houses more affordable some incentive would be needed, and Ms. Mannix said they plan to ask the city to write down the mortgages to the anticipated appraised value of $70,000.  Houses could be both targeted to lower income individuals earning $35,000 or higher and current homeowners in the neighborhoods who desire and could afford a better house, thus keeping them in the neighborhood.  It is important for there to be a mix of incomes in a neighborhood, said Ms. Mannix.

Jose Arevalo is leading the rehab portion of the project.  He is a long-time South Bend real estate investor and realtor.  He said they were looking at green rehab and his organization is prepared to do the work.  His team would focus on roofing, siding, windows, and insulation along with ceiling cracks and gaps, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and landscaping.  He is confident they can rehab properties for much less than what the city is currently spending to rehab properties.

In addition to those speaking about the project itself, preselected community members shared their personal experience with Code Enforcement, concern over lack of public funds to assist residents with rehabbing their property, and the lack of minority contractors and employees used for public projects.  Several audience members then also shared comments about the project or quality of life in their neighborhoods or asked questions of Chairwoman Preston before the meeting concluded.

In summary, a primary goal of those leading this initiative is to have “development without displacement” or to avoid gentrification. Another priority is to use “our people to build our houses in our neighborhoods” which would create employment opportunities and more ownership of the project.  In addition, there is a plan to work with property owners whose properties end up on the tax sale to help them keep their properties. Regina shared that tax bills which list special exceptions may be able to get those additional fees and fines waived and keep their property. To be determined is what priority the Mayor and Council will give this initiative in the 2018 budget and that may depend on a study yet to be conducted.

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For more information upcoming Common Council standing committee meetings, see the South Bend Common Council’s Meeting Notices, Agendas & Minutes page.