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  • Jamie Duffy | The Journal Gazette Denise Andorfer, executive director of Vincent Village, center, Dave Walters, director of The Chapel's Change Your World outreach and Heather Presley-Cowan discuss housing efforts on the southeast side.

Sunday, July 09, 2017 1:00 am

Helping out with housing

Groups partner up to improve city's south side

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

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Volunteer groups

Vincent Village, 2827 Holton Ave., helpers are: The Chapel, The Christ Child Society, Neighborlink, St. Jude Social Action Committee, IPFW, University of Saint Francis and Homestead High School Network, Catholic Charities, Parkview Health, AIM Services, Headwaters Counseling, Fort Wayne Community Schools, Wells Fargo Bank and the Purdue Cooperative Extension. The agency averages about 260 monthly volunteer hours from individuals and groups.

Bridge of Grace (Many Nations Church), 5100 Gaywood Dr., helpers are: Fellowship Ministry Church (raised $110,000 for the housing ministry), Neighbor Link, First Assembly of God, St. Vincent's R.C. Church (sends a construction crew every week), Parkview Mirro Center (sponsors fundraiser in October “Bridge the Gap”), Weigand Construction, Windows Doors and More, Granite Ridge Builders, Strahm Building Solutions.

Sources: Denise Andorfer, executive director, Vincent Village; Javier Mondragon, pastor, Many Nations Church

Shontel Hamilton returned to her Holton Avenue home one morning to find two rosebushes and some flowers planted at the edge of her porch.

The Vincent Village resident knew where they'd come from. They were gifts from The Chapel, a nondenominational megachurch on the city's southwest side. She'd gotten to know some of the volunteers during the church's monthlong home improvement blitz in May at Vincent Village, a 35-home transitional housing community off Creighton Avenue.

Volunteers also removed a swing that had collapsed in Hamilton's backyard. She appreciated the job advice they gave her, too.

During the blitz at Vincent Village, volunteer workers shored up foundations with dirt and mulch, poured concrete in a parking lot and new sidewalks, remodeled, painted, repaired and cleaned out gutters, replaced two porches, repaired floors and cleaned an entire house to get it ready for a new family.

More than 250 people worked 1,800 hours in corporate-style teams.

Heather Presley-Cowan, a private housing consultant, said private partnerships, such as the one between Vincent Village and The Chapel, are leading the way in home renovation in 46806. That ZIP code is part of the city's south side, which is often equated with urban problems.

The partnerships will be even more important, local housing experts say, now that federal housing funds could disappear. Local money for HOME and Community Development Block Grants has been eliminated from President Donald Trump's proposed 2018 budget, but the wrangling continues, according to Mary Tyndall, the city's community development public information officer.

The Chapel's mission at Vincent Village isn't over. Last year, The Chapel committed to what it calls the 10/5 Project, promising to renovate 10 homes for families transitioning out of homelessness.   

“We want to remodel, recondition or add back to the homeless community 10 houses in the next five years,” said Newman Crook, project chairman. “We were trying to find a partner in Fort Wayne in which we could invest a lot of resources of time, energy and love and just help Fort Wayne.”

The commitment is a blessing for Vincent Village, executive director Denise Andorfer said. Federal funds the nonprofit accessed through the Housing and Urban Development Agency are gone, she said. That money distributed through state and local governments was a small, but very useful, part of the nonprofit's $1.2 million annual budget.

Since 2009, Vincent Village received $354,142.58 in City HOME federal funds to rehab houses in the Oxford neighborhood,” Andorfer said in an email.

“As of July 1, our last small state grant will be gone. HUD doesn't fund transitional housing anymore. Our $1.2 million budget comes from private donations from foundations, corporations and individuals.” 

About $75,000 of the $1.2 million operating budget is spent on repairs, Andorfer said. Capital projects have been paid by HOME funds and by the McMillen Foundation.

In a March news release, Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry predicted a potential loss of $1.8 million in yearly block grant funds and $775,000 in the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the amount received last year. 

“The money is used for everything from public service grants to support nonprofits like JustNeighbors to home repair programs to large investments in projects like the Randall Lofts building,” Tyndall said in an email response. The money is also used to solicit private investment through matching funds.

In 2015 and 2016 combined, HOME funds were spent on four lease-purchase homes in Renaissance Pointe, four rehab homeownership homes in West Central, 192 units at Villages of Hanna and 72 units at Superior Lofts, Tyndall said in an email response.

Javier Mondragon, pastor of Many Nations Church on Gaywood Drive, created a nonprofit in 2011 called Bridge of Grace so he could accept financial help for church ministries. Bridge of Grace has used that money to acquire and renovate homes in his southeast neighborhood that had become notorious for gun violence.

Mondragon cites Malcolm Gladwell's 2002 book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference” as inspiration to start renovating homes in the neighborhood. The idea is to bring back pride in the community by fixing things like broken windows that can lead to a drop in crime. Last year, Allen County had 49 homicides, a record year. Many of the victims lived in 46806.  

Since 2015, the nonprofit Bridge of Grace has rehabbed two homes, is working on two more and just closed on two houses, Mondragon said. By the end of the year, he hopes to have seven homes for families to own.

“Our goal with housing is basically to create more ownership. We want to make this community stronger and sustainable,” Mondragon said.

The first home was purchased at a tax sale for $4,200 and the church spent $33,000 to fix it up. The net result was a 950-square-foot three-bedroom home, Mondragon said. Zillow, the online real estate site, estimated the value between $36,000 and $37,000.

To keep up the momentum, Mondragon said he will need funding from the city and federal government. 

The south side revitalization movement for the area got a boost in 2011 with Renaissance Pointe, an $11 million development of 66 lease-to-own homes on John and Gay streets and Weisser Park Avenue. The development was funded with private investment, state low-income housing tax credits and city of Fort Wayne federal housing dollars, said Presley-Cowan, who initiated the project in 2006 when she was the city's deputy director for housing and neighborhood development. 

Many of the homes in the ZIP code were built post-World War II and need repair, but because of the location, have a lower resale value than the rest of the city, Presley-Cowan said. That statement is borne out by a 2014 housing market assessment the city commissioned. Buying a house there and sinking a lot of money into it is viewed as risky.

“Putting some new windows in a house that old in such a depressed market, doesn't make sense,” Presley-Cowan said. “Everyone has aging housing stock and the question is, in a market that is so affordable, can you go in and buy a house and put $40,000-$60,000-$80,000, are (you) going to end up upside right? In Fort Wayne and in a lot of areas, the answer is no.”

Saving homes on the southeast side is worthwhile because, even with housing vouchers that theoretically allow renters to go anywhere they want, people on the south side want to be near family and where they grew up, Presley-Cowan said.

A tour around Vincent Village is an example of what can happen when good things come to a depressed housing area. The grounds are landscaped thanks to The Chapel. The homes are in good condition because of the nonprofit's efforts aided by the city.

“Hopefully those funds (HOME and CDBG) don't go away, Presley-Cowan said. “If it's not those dollars, then they have to rethink the strategies.”

The Chapel is a “model program that's willing to go out there and kind of be a missionary in their own community,” Presley-Cowan said. “All of a sudden a community starts to look different to us.”