Community Development Block Grants revitalizing neighborhood

Published 10:23 am Friday, August 19, 2011

One of the houses being renovated using the CDBG grant funds. (photo by Samantha Hurst)

Crews brushed fresh paint strokes across the new decking outside West Livingston resident Charles Nesbitt’s home in Tryon on Wednesday, Aug. 17.
Next door, Nancy “Jean” Miller sat beneath a brand new roof reading devotionals and enjoying the coolness of a newly air-conditioned home.
Nesbitt and Miller are two of a handful of residents who will benefit from a continuing Community Development Block Grant program aimed at rehabilitating homes in the Eastside of Tryon.
“It really shows you what people can do when they really put in the effort,” Jean Miller said. “I just think it’s going to be a real improvement, not just for me, but for the whole community. It’s sort of exciting.”
Tryon Town Council applied for and was approved for these funds, made available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in 2008.
Tryon Councilman Roy Miller is passionate about the work being done. He said the Eastside Committee formed a decade ago, but has just in the last two years really gotten to the meat of the work it wants to accomplish.
“This project, it gives individuals an opportunity for a good quality of life where they can have a decent home,” he said. “It’s also revitalizing a part of the community and maybe encouraging others to take more pride in their homes and in their neighborhood.”
Paula Kempton, who serves as the grant administrator through Isothermal Planning & Development, said these projects are critical for small communities like ours.
“Any local government that chooses to take on such an intense housing program, does so in the hopes that some of their most needy citizens will have the opportunity to reap the benefits of a system that they once or still do contribute to,” Kempton said. “The intent and the purpose of the CDBG housing projects are to provide residents with a comfortable, safe, dry and decent living conditions, while also improving and providing a more viable community.”
Tryon’s Community Revitalization (CR) projects involve competitive grants that must include housing as the primary need, but the grantee must also show additional needs such as water, sewer, streets, flood and drainage. Kempton said the Town of Tryon had submitted multiple applications prior to getting funded for the 2008 cycle. Unlike scattered site housing projects, homes addressed in a CR project must be in a targeted area and must meet specific income and property guidelines as a whole. Applicants for the program must have income 80 percent or below the county’s median income level. The grantee must also provide a monetary local match/commitment to qualify for the funds.
Kempton said these housing grants are not easy to obtain and require a commitment from the homeowners involved. She said one recent rehab project involved a homeowner who had applied for the program 11 years ago and continued to reapply each time a grant became available, but because of the strict requirements and regulations, was often turned down.
Miller said the important thing for people in the community to understand is that even though many of the people helped in the Eastside area of Tryon are African American, the project is not aimed at helping just that segment of the population.
“I don’t think people realize the conditions that some of their neighbors are living in,” Councilman Miller said. “This isn’t just a problem for our black residents or for our white residents, this is a problem many of our neighbors are facing and they need our help.”
Miller moved to her home in 2008 though she has lived in the Eastside area of Tryon for more than 30 years.
With a new roof in place and contractors expected any day to replace windows throughout her home, Miller said she feels blessed. She said the work will make a huge difference in what was a drafty home last winter and a hard-to-cool home already this summer.
“With the weather we’ve been having lately the air has helped a lot,” Miller said. “All of the changes they are making will just make it easier for me to keep the house up.”
Miller said it became hard for her to keep her home up on her own as she aged and began dealing more and more with health problems on a fixed income. She certainly couldn’t get out and rehinge her front door on her own, let alone replace the roof or reinforce a failing front porch.
Kempton said she has walked into many homes in the dead of winter with absolutely no heating. She said many times it was almost unbearable for the interviewers to complete a two-hour visit. She said it was hard to imagine how these people lived in these same homes through those conditions.
“We have been in homes where all the homeowner has asked for is a working bathroom or plumbing so that they can have running water or a roof that didn’t leak even though there was no heat in the home either but they needed a roof more,” Kempton said. “One 90-year-old lady, who was still responsible for taking care of her grown severely handicap son, had no water or indoor plumbing and was having to find ways to get him 400 feet outside the house to go to the bathroom in a porta john… One homeowner had such big holes in the floor and ceilings that regular visits from outside rodents and animals became just another part of their daily routine.”
It doesn’t help that most of the homes are well beyond 50 years old, Kempton said, with many being old family homesteads creeping toward 100 years old.
Nesbitt’s home is not far from completion. This family home has new siding and a new roof. It will also be weatherproofed with new insulation and windows. The home will get upgraded plumbing, electrical work and heating and air, plus new paint throughout, new carpet and decking on the front and back of the home.
Councilman Miller said the most important aspect of selecting a neighborhood to refurbish was the ability to create a gateway of the community and to boost community pride.
Jean Miller said the work is doing just that and enhancing her life in a significant way.
Crews will reinforce the floor where there are weak spots, install new cabinets, a new sink, countertops and flooring in the kitchen. Miller will also see new fixtures placed in her bathroom and a new back porch to enjoy when the weather cools.
“I can deal with the beating and the banging of all the hammers for a little while because I know what a huge difference it’s going to make in my life,” Miller said.

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