The Leader, Saturday, January 16, 2016
It's no secret: Houston's Near Northside is transforming. The once sleepy Heights, long held to offer the most affordable inner-loop homes and rentals, has exploded with expensive, new construction. One organization has continued working to ensure working class families, those who are pushed out of gentrified areas, have access to affordable homes and rentals while preserving Northside's historic, cultural and economic diversity.
Mary Lawler, Executive Director for Avenue CDC, admits that gentrification is a "kind of a charged word."
"We view our mission more as one of 'revitalization without displacement," Lawler said. "There is a tremendous growing need, and the list of people waiting for our properties is long, but we encourage anyone - young families, low-income, seniors, everyone - to sign up on it."
Since its inception, the agency has leveraged more than $70 million in investments, including the development of 133 single-family homes, 594 rental units, and 140,000 square feet of commercial space throughout The Leader's readership area. Still, the public's need continues to grow.
Once of the ways the organization is responding is with its development near Irvington Blvd. and Cavalcade St., called "Avenue Place." Here, Avenue CDC is constructing 95 energy efficient, single-family house son a 12-acre plot that includes a part and walking trail. Buyers can select from a variety of home sizes and styles, but the best part is that the homes start at $225,000 and income-eligible buyers can apply for a zero-interest $86,000 loan. This loan goes directly against the principal with $25,000 forgiven over the first 10-years, and the remaining $60,000 due at resale.
Janet Roe is a photographer working in the Heights Winter Street Studios. She and her partner owned an old, three-story home in the Heights and wanted to downsize while staying close to Roe's studio.
"We looked at everything in the area - condominiums, bungalows, and Oak Forest too," said Roe. "Then, one day we were driving down Irvington and saw some interesting, new construction from the street. It was Avenue Place. We knew it was what we wanted immediately."
Today, Roe and her partner are loving life. "There's a real feeling of community in Avenue Place," said Roe. "Our neighbors watch out for each other and wave as we drive by. The diversity is also tremendous: young and older people, a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, professions. However, the best part is that we had equity in our home from the very first day. Where else could we find that inside the loop?"
Avenue CDC also offers educational programs in both English and Spanish for anyone interested in home ownership of any kind. Subjects include financial coaching, one-on-one pre-purchase counseling, foreclosure prevention and more. For more information, go to www.avenuecdc.org.