Friday, July 24, 2009

The Dallas Neighborhood Revitalization Corp

Purpose: To revitalize a distressed ten-block neighborhood in the City of Dallas by taking to scale the methodology pioneered by the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP in the Congo Street Initiative.

Description of Method: In the Congo Street Green Initiative the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP pioneered a new approach to revitalization of distressed urban neighborhood. Prior revitalization efforts have usually relied on one of two approaches:

1. Slum clearance—The slum clearance approach, now largely outdated and abandoned, treated entire neighborhoods as a blight, acquired relatively large tracts (often through eminent domain), which were then cleared of all existing structures, and attempted to create a new neighborhood on the old site. While there was some value in the comprehensiveness of this approach, it had very significant downsides. It failed to value the existing social and built structure of the neighborhood. It treated people and social structures as fungible. Even when successful in creating a new neighborhood, those neighborhoods often did not include the former residents of the site and the new neighborhoods often had little or no social cohesion and as a result suffered from high crime rates and an entire lack of social cohesion.

2. Urban Infill—The urban infill approach emerged as a reaction to slum clearance. In this approach vacant lots or houses in need of demolition are filled with new construction, one home at a time. This approach respects the integrity of the neighborhood and its existing physical and social structures. Sometimes this approach is couple with efforts to improve or repair existing homes. The problem with the urban infill approach is its lack of comprehensiveness. One new house does little to reclaim the neighborhood (and may be difficult to sell) if it is located between two decaying structures. In many cases the rate of construction of new homes fails to exceed the rate of decay of existing structures, and the neighborhood as a whole fails to improve.

3. The Congo Green Street Initiative—Working in partnership with residents of Congo Street in South Dallas, the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP has developed a new idea for neighborhood revitalization based on the concept of the “Holding House”. The Holding House is a new infill home built in the neighborhood, but rather than being sold to a new or existing residence, the Holding House is used as a temporary residence within the neighborhood for neighbors to live in while their home undergoes repair or replacement. After a two or three month stay in the Holding House, the neighbor will return to their own, newly refurbished home and the next neighbor will move into the Holding House while work is done on their home.

This strategy combines the best features of the two previous methods. It is comprehensive, although its strategy to become comprehensive is temporal rather than spatial. It keeps neighbors in their own neighborhood, retains social cohesion, makes as much use of the existing physical structure as is feasible, and benefits the current residents of the neighborhood, not some hypothetical new residents.

To date, the Holding House method has proved itself in a small experimental project. This proposal is to take the method to scale.

Proposal: The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP will work in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, Central Dallas Ministries, the City of Dallas and Central Dallas Community Development Corporation, along with expected additional partners, to revitalize a ten block neighborhood in Dallas. While the neighborhood we will work in is now distressed, buildingcommunityWORKSHOP and its partners believe that with properly conceived approach every owner-occupied home in the neighborhood can be improved, repaired or if necessary replaced and that new construction can fill the majority of the now existing vacant lots. That will require touching as many 160 different pieces of property, but the partners believe that this task can be completed within two years.

Here are the key elements of program:

1. A concentrated effort will take place during the summer of 2009 to meet with the neighbors, explain the program and get the neighborhood enthusiastically behind the project.

2. The buildingcommunityWORKSHOP will recruit the team members for the project, funding the major portion of their expenses through the AmeriCorp program administered by Central Dallas Ministries.

3. After appropriate training, the buildingcommunityWORKSHOP will begin the construction of five Holding Houses, which will house neighbors within the neighborhood while their houses are repaired or replaced.

4. At the same time, two evaluation teams will start to work with neighbors to determine which of three categories their home best fits: 1) basically sound, but could benefit from some weatherization or improvement in energy efficiency; 2) in need of major repair, somewhere between $7,500 and $25,000 in work; or 3) in need of complete replacement.

5. When the Holding Houses are completed, five families whose houses are in need of major repairs or replacement will move into the Holding House nearest their own home for a period of five weeks for major repairs or twelve weeks for replacements.

6. Two specially trained crews will also begin working to weatherize and improve energy efficiency of the homes in the neighborhood that have been evaluated and would benefit from this activity.

7. The repair, replacement and weatherization/energy efficiency work will continue until every owner-occupied home in the neighborhood has received the necessary attention. The necessary time is expected to be eighteen months.

8. While this work is ongoing, Central Dallas CDC, Central Dallas Ministries, and the City of Dallas of Dallas will contact the owner of each rental property in the neighborhood to encourage them to make any needed repairs to their rental property, to assist them in making the improvements if they are cooperative and to make sure that their properties are up to code and properly maintained if they are not.

9. The City of Dallas will also support the project by funding its expenses through its existing home replacement, repair, and CHDO programs to the extent the activity qualifies and funding is available.

10. Habitat for Humanity will, at the same time these activities are under weigh, attempt to acquire every vacant lot in the neighborhood, which is not under active development, and work to construct new homes on these lots. Habitat for Humanity will also support the project by offering low cost mortgage loans for replacement homes, when the new homes cannot be paid for by either the City of Dallas’s home replacement program or other available grants.

11. Central Dallas CDC will provide accounting and financial support to the project and work with the other partners in locating grant funding and other potential partners for the project. Central Dallas CDC will also work to acquire or facilitate the acquisition of rental properties where the current landlord is unable or unwilling to make improvements.

12. All the partners in the project will work to see every home in the neighborhood repainted, the landscaping improved and to implement a home maintenance program to provide low cost services to residents who could not otherwise afford to properly maintain their property.


March through July 2009:
Planning and fundraising

July through August 2009:
Neighborhood meetings; Recruit and Train staff

September through October 2009:
Construction of Holding Houses; Beginning of valuation process; Beginning of weatherization/energy efficiency

October through December 2009:
Complete construction of Holding Houses; Begin Repair Work

December 2009 through May 2010:
Continue Repair and Weatherization Work

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