Reinvigorating neighborhoods eyed

STEUBENVILLE — City officials are looking at the possibilities of involving Habitat for Humanity with reinvigorating neighborhoods in Steubenville.

It was impossible to miss Councilwoman at large Kimberly Hahn’s eyes light up as she spoke with Aaron Brown, director of neighborhood investment for Habitat for Humanity of East Central Ohio.

Brown was in the city Tuesday to discuss a family moving into a Habitat for Humanity restoration home this weekend in the Hollywood subdivision.

He explained how Habitat works, and Hahn was interested in seeing how a groundswell of support could mesh the city’s needs with what Habitat can do.

Mayor Jerry Barilla said he and Hahn will be traveling to Canton later this month to meet with Brown.

“It is just remarkable, the initiative they have to be able to come to a community and take advantage of houses that can be rehabbed and then to turn that over to a family. It was just special to see,” Barilla commented. “Their delight in seeing the new home handed to them, ready to go, and the payment is pretty reasonable for them to maintain, as well as the instructions on how to maintain what they were given, including plumbing and electrical and whatnot.”

Barilla said the hope is that after he and Hahn meet with Brown is to have a presentation made for City Council about Habitat for Humanity.

Brown explained Habitat regionalized into a unit from Canton that now covers Tuscarawas, Harrison and Jefferson counties, too, in 2015. The home restoration on Harvard Boulevard was the first Habitat effort in the city, he said.

Habitat is a Christian-based organization, but it does not offer assistance on the expressed or implied condition that people have to adhere or convert to a particular faith. Money from each home goes toward the next home.

Habitat accepts applications from families and then reviews their information to see if the need is justified. The potential homeowners receive training in what it takes to be a homeowner and learn maintenance skills by helping renovate or build their new residence. Brown explained. The program can be modified for the elderly or disabled who can’t physically help on construction work.

“They’re still learning everything that we teach so they can be the best homeowners that they can be,” Brown said.

It takes a year or two to proceed from the application to moving into a home, he said. For this year, Habitat East Central Ohio is building a dozen homes and preserving 10 more, and it’s booked for the entire year, he said.

He noted the organization hasn’t done much outreach into Jefferson or Harrison counties as it rebuilt the Tuscarawas organization, but said it’s time to do so.

“If we don’t have families, there’s nothing we can do,” Brown said. Interested families may visit the organization’s website, habitateco.org, or call (330) 915-5888 or send an e-mail to info@habitateco.org.

He said there’s a $10 fee to fill out an application and the organization then walks the family through what it takes to complete the program.

“It’s not for everyone, I’ll be honest. Some people, once they get into this they know there is a lot to this. It’s a ton for families to do this program, but they know the result is a quality house,” he said. Zero percent interest loans are offered and the families have to stay in the home for 10 years. He said most don’t choose to move, and the foreclosure rate after helping 540 families is 2 percent for the East Central Ohio organization.

Hahn asked Brown several questions about how Habitat can get involved in Steubenville and how the community can become involved with Habitat.

“I think we have homes we might be able to get people to donate, and I think there are volunteers who would like to be part of a crew here and assist. There are people who would be eager to sign up,” she said. Hahn noted the community efforts of the Hilltop Community Development Corp. and the LaBelle Neighbors Who Care organizations.

She asked Brown if as a first step Habitat could conduct some type of homeowners seminar locally.

He said Habitat is working with the city of Canton to offer its first program to nonHabitat homeowners — a one-day seminar on homeownership and home maintenance. He said the program could be modified to provide information based on topics the local audience wants into a brief workshop, which Hahn said could double as a recruitment event for Habitat in the city.

“We have 1,000 vacant homes in Steubenville and we have 300 in my neighborhood,” said Hahn, who lives on LaBelle View. “We know you can’t do it all, but if this partnership could develop, if we could work on streets where there is some progress being made, we could build on it,” she said.

Brown said Habitat has worked on a full neighborhood revitalization effort, the Renewal Project, in Canton. The group gathered data from homeowners and tax records in the neighborhood and rated each property on a four-level scale, from good to in need of demolition.

“Based on that, we figured we could help 300 families in this particular area of Canton. It’s about a $3.5 million project. We began in May 2016 and to date, two years in, we’re fully funded and helped 40 families already, with a combination of construction, home preservation and helping homeowners who needed their homes fixed,” he said.

Homeowners apply for zero percent interest loans and provide their sweat equity to the projects. Elderly or disabled applicants who can’t work on their homes are advised how to be involved in their community, so that they’re still giving back for the assistance. The Canton neighborhood project also involved demolitions, creation of pocket parks, beautification projects and use of some Canton Community Development Block Grant money to install new sidewalks across a neighborhood. The organization has been asked to move to another neighborhood to continue the work, Brown said.

“It is a model that is replicable,” Brown said.

“There are a lot of great and engaged people in our neighborhood and some who don’t have the means but want to be of assistance,” Hahn responded. “I think our neighborhood could be primed for something like this.”

“It takes a lot of partners,” Brown said. “We’re not a stand-alone organization and we can’t do it alone. We are here to help to the best of our ability.”

He invited Hahn to visit the Habitat for Humanity East Central Ohio offices and training center in Canton.

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