The Columbus Dispatch

Foundation developing affordable housing

Bolstering Driving Park ‘one street at a time’

- Mark Ferenchik

When Darnell Brewer traveled down Miller Avenue more than three years ago and saw what would ultimately become the first home he would ever own, he knew there would be a lot of work ahead.

Brewer said he couldn’t really see the house because the shrubbery in front of it was so overgrown. There were also no front steps, no windows and a hole in the roof.

“There was no furnace. I didn’t have a kitchen,” Brewer said.

Today, the 100-year-old house, fully renovated with sage green siding, stands out in the Driving Park neighborho­od. Inside, Brewer has a Christmas tree in the corner, and model cars lining shelves in his living room and on his dining room table.

“Everything in the house is my character,” Brewer said.

Brewer’s house is one of six on Miller Avenue that the Gertrude Wood Community Foundation developed since 2014 with its partners in the Driving Park area, part of a long-term mission to help bolster the community

through several efforts, including adding affordable housing.

“The focus is one street at a time,” said Mashelle Gladney, the housing director for the foundation, a faithand community-based group based in Driving Park that is working to restore the neighborho­od, including eliminatin­g vacant and abandoned housing and creating more affordable housing.

“Community developmen­t has always been a love of mine, said Gladney, who has been a loan officer and worked for the Ohio Housing Finance Agency before coming to the foundation six years ago.

The foundation provides gap financing to buyers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to purchase homes, she said.

The city provided $100,613 through the Gertrude Wood foundation to help rehabilita­te the house Brewer would be buying, according to an email provided by the city’s housing division.

Brewer said he also received a $5,000 federal American Dream Home grant and $17,000 from the city to help him buy his home three years ago for $115,000.

“It was a long process. Definitely worth it,” Brewer said.

Gladney said the group’s involvemen­t developed out of a need for good, affordable housing in the neighborho­od.

The Miller Avenue homes were a mix of four new homes and two rehabilita­ted houses. The foundation also renovated three homes on Ellsworth Avenue.

Between 2010 and 2018, the foundation acquired land bank properties on Miller and Ellsworth avenues for homes.

Over the next year or two, the foundation plans to build two homes and renovate two others, all on Miller Avenue.

Gladney said the foundation has reserved seven vacant lots with the city land bank; two of those will be used for the two new houses.

According to the city’s code enforcemen­t office, the Driving Park area had 162 vacant homes in 2018, rising to 180 in 2019, then falling to 163 in 2020 and 131 through mid-december.

Meanwhile, the number of vacant homes in fair condition dropped from 144 in 2020 to 73 so far this year, and the homes in good condition rose from nine in 2020 to 52 in 2021.

And the number of vacant homes in poor condition dropped from 21 in 2018 to six so far this year.

Heather Truesdell, who leads the code enforcemen­t office, said poor condition means anything from problems in structural integrity to windows and doors missing and other major violations.

Fair condition includes such things as hanging gutters to doors and windows that are boarded up. Good means just one or two violations, with the house clearly boarded up and secure.

“Overall, vacant structures are something that the community is concerned with,” Truesdell said.

“There are more properties in the good category than in the past,” she said, although she said there’s no clear explanatio­n as to why.

John Turner, the administra­tor for the city’s land bank, said there have always been pockets of Driving Park that have been stable, with a good number of homeowners.

The Buckeye Community Hope Foundation purchased 45 properties in 2016 from the land bank to redevelop into lease-to-own homes.

Rita Parise, the city’s housing administra­tor, said the city has worked with the Gertrude Wood foundation for about five years.

“It’s a very small organizati­on. You’re not going to see 50 houses from them in one year,” Parise said.

Parise provided informatio­n that showed the city has invested $781,018 since 2015 for housing developmen­t in the Driving Park area through the Gertrude Wood foundation: seven homes on Miller Avenue and three on nearby Ellsworth Avenue to the east. That money goes toward constructi­on costs associated with the renovation of the structures as well as financial assistance to homebuyers.

“They are clearly rooted in the community,” Parise said. “The church they are affiliated with is in Driving Park. They’re working with the folks in the community to provide opportunit­ies for home ownership.”

The group was founded in 2005 by A. Wilson Wood, who was senior pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Driving Park. Originally called Bethany Community Developmen­t Corp., the group was renamed after Wood’s wife, Gertrude Wood, who was an operating room nurse at Riverside Methodist Hospital for 23 years and

Erin Prosser, the city’s assistant director of housing strategies, said Columbus officials are working on housing strategies for 2022, including preserving and creating more affordable housing in neighborho­ods such as Driving Park, where home prices and rents like elsewhere continue to climb.

“It’s an area of the city I’m getting to know,” said Prosser, who was director of community developmen­t at Campus Partners, the nonprofit developmen­t arm of Ohio State University, before she was appointed to the city position in May.

“Part of preserving affordabil­ity is protecting existing homeowners,” she said. That will take a wide range of strategies that haven’t been developed yet, she said.

Many older homeowners are worried that rising property taxes could force them to sell. Prosser said. “That’s an issue for our state government,” she said. “There’s limited ability to impact that at a city level.”

Brewer, who said he grew up on nearby Bulen Avenue, said his part of the neighborho­od still faces challenges.

“We still have a couple of landlords that have not taken care of their property,” he said. “We’ve dealt with a lot of speeding up and down the street. The curbs starting to decay. Beautifica­tion would look really, really nice.”

Brewer said he’d like to see the corner store at Miller and Livingston avenues become a restaurant or coffee shop some day.

Before he bought his house, he said, his stretch of Miller Avenue was dotted with vacant houses.

“Since I moved here, it’s gotten 70% better,” Brewer said. “The city needs to come in and help owners out. We can’t do it by ourselves.”

But Brewer remains happy with the decision he made.

“It kind of worked out pretty good in the end,” Brewer said.

This story is part of the Dispatch’s Mobile Newsroom initiative, which is currently focused on Driving Park and operating out of the Driving Park branch library. mferenchik@dispatch.com @Markferenc­hik

 ?? DORAL CHENOWETH/DISPATCH ?? Darnell Brewer never would have been able to buy his first home three years ago if it wasn't for the help of a local nonprofit group, the Gertrude Wood Community Foundation, and its partners. The 100-year-old home had sat vacant and needed a lot of repairs, including more than $100,000 of which was paid for by the city of Columbus.
DORAL CHENOWETH/DISPATCH Darnell Brewer never would have been able to buy his first home three years ago if it wasn't for the help of a local nonprofit group, the Gertrude Wood Community Foundation, and its partners. The 100-year-old home had sat vacant and needed a lot of repairs, including more than $100,000 of which was paid for by the city of Columbus.

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