Tag Archives: FCS Urban Ministries

Intentional Neighboring, Transformed Neighborhoods – Part Four

11 Apr

This post (the final in a series on Charis Community Housing) discusses some of the challenges of revitalization – and the results that make it worthwhile. (Part One relates how the ministry began. Part Two looks at Charis’ philosophy and methods, and Part Three describes how vacant properties are turned into attractive homes.)

New owners who purchased a Charis Community Housing renovated home.

New owners who purchased a Charis Community Housing renovated home.

In addition to affordable housing, economic development is an important part of revitalizing a community. Residents also need places to buy food, and other essential services such as public transportation. But it can be challenging to bring markets and other businesses into an area seen as “low income.”

“You need to understand the financial realities of bringing a supermarket to an area where discretionary income is not high,” explains Jim Wehner, Charis’ executive director. Much of a market’s profit is not from food but “extras” such as paper goods and magazines, which low-income residents may not easily afford.

In the East Lake Community, the grocery chain Publix had to be talked into opening a branch. But today, over 12 years later, the store is doing well – a testament to the successful development efforts by Tom Cousins, Charis, and others in partnership with residents.

Ultimately, once homes are fixed up and occupied, the residents themselves bring most of the revitalization, notes Jim. They build a sense of community, look out for one another, and band together to address issues affecting them.

A recent example is a two-block stretch of 12 houses in South Atlanta. Eighteen months ago, just three were occupied. The vacant homes had been totally stripped of electrical wiring, plumbing fixtures, anything of value – leaving them open to drug deals and other crimes. Charis rehabbed three homes as affordable housing and three as market rate; two investors also bought homes (one as a Section 8 rental and one at market rate).

Charis is rehabbing damaged vacant properties into attractive homes that are revitalizing South Atlanta streets.

Charis is rehabbing damaged vacant properties into attractive homes that are revitalizing South Atlanta streets.

Now 11 of the 12 homes have families. “Everyone knows everyone, and there’s very little crime,” says Jim. “It doesn’t mean everything’s peachy, but the street has been transformed.”

For homeowners like Tracy and Mary Hancock, living in such a transformed neighborhood is a “dream come true.” Several years ago, the couple bought a house in Ormewood Park – one of the first communities where Charis worked.

The path wasn’t easy, Tracy and Mary admit. Often, after working all day, they felt like skipping their evening homeownership classes. With ongoing encouragement from Charis staff members (who’d call to remind them before each class), they stuck it out. Now, they’re both so glad they did – and in fact, they’d like to see more classes in the future.

The Hancocks love the economic and ethnic diversity of Ormewood Park. They’ve become active members of the neighborhood, helping with the community garden, cleanup days, and other activities. And Charis, they say, is the “goldmine” that has allowed them to “own a piece of the earth” in the “best part” of Atlanta.

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The story of how FCS Urban Ministries and Charis began is featured on pages 81-86 of Making Housing Happen. You can read an excerpt of the chapter here, and purchase the book from Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Intentional Neighboring, Transformed Neighborhoods

28 Mar
Jacklyn Walker and Sebrina Sims (5)

Mrs. Jacklyn Walker (center) with her daughter Sebrina Sims (right), a Charis homeowner, and her granddaughter. Born and raised in South Atlanta, Mrs. Walker has been intentionally neighboring there for many years.

 

Making Housing Happen exists because of Bob Lupton.

Bob is the founder of FCS Urban Ministries, and I had heard him tell a certain story so many times, I practically had it memorized. It was the story of his role in turning the Atlanta Stockade — formerly a notorious prison – into GlenCastle: 67 beautiful and affordable loft apartments.

Finally, at a Christian Community Development Association conference, I asked Bob if this story had ever been published. He said it hadn’t. “If I put together a book highlighting all the ways that faith-based groups are building affordable housing,” I said, “would you write up this story as a chapter?”

The rest is history, and Bob’s story appears on pages 81-86 of Making Housing Happen – one of many inspiring examples. (You can read an excerpt of the chapter here, or purchase the book here.)

Interior and Exterior (23)

The story of GlenCastle — transformed from a notorious former prison into beautiful apartments — was the inspiration for the book Making Housing Happen: Faith-based Affordable Housing Models.

GlenCastle was just the start of FCS’ housing ministry. Charis Community Housing works hand-in-hand with FCS as part of the organization’s overall community development efforts. According to Jim Wehner, who joined Charis as executive director in 2008, FCS got its start in the Grant Park area of Atlanta. Bob Lupton moved there in the early 1980s, working with young men in the juvenile detention system as part of Youth for Christ.

Relocating into the community and being a friend and mentor, Bob was doing “community development” before it really became a formal practice, Jim notes. “Bob’s work was much more on the ground, and it drew people into the vision.”

Relationships are still at the heart of FCS and Charis, which get to know one neighborhood at a time. Once FCS identifies an area, four to six individuals or families (staff members and community chaplains) are recruited to move into the neighborhood and to look for long-time residents who already are “living with purpose” there.

The FCS families are encouraged to listen and learn from these residents and to join them in intentionally neighboring the community. “Together, they become part of its fabric and work toward strengthening the neighborhood,” explains Christy Taylor, assistant director of community development. Meanwhile, Charis staff work on finding properties that can be transformed into affordable homes, and help residents empower themselves to address challenges.

Part 2 will explain more about how Charis works.

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