With Summer in full swing, the NEAR team has been keeping busy with the opening of our new office, the Center for Community Development (and dodging pickup trucks in the process), promoting and expanding our NEAR Indy Guide, hosting neighborhood forums, and participating in quality of life summits. And that’s before touching on our flagship initiative: building and restoring affordable homes for ownership opportunities in the Near Eastside.
As we announced in December and fully launched at our annual community luncheon in April, this Summer also marks the construction of our 100th home in the great St. Clair Place neighborhood. The past six months have flown by, as we have planned and discussed and convened and listened and, yes, started to build. That process has had a similar effect on the previous seven years, as well.
That’s not to say they’ve been easy years. Asset-based community development is a long, though rewarding, process. It’s hard work that we could not do without several incredible partners and hundreds of dedicated neighbors, and it bears great results.
Today, an onlooker might take a tour of St. Clair Place and see kids playing, people walking their dogs, neighbors working in their yards and socializing on their porches. While these sights may seem normal for many neighborhoods, they are the relatively new fruits of our collective labor over the last several years.
As we approach number 100, we’ve been taking some time to reflect on just how much this great place has evolved since we first put shovel to earth in 2010. Those first batches of houses in the early years taught us much, and, more importantly, introduced us to many incredible neighbors and stories.
Andy Austin was one of those early individuals to purchase a NEAR home. In the Spring of 2012, Andy was on the hunt for a home, after his rental on the Old Northside was put on the market. Like many, he desired to stay in the downtown area but found prices exceeding his budget. After learning about NEAR’s work from WFYI’s “Super Bowl Legacy Series,” he reached out to his Realtor, Jay Pearl, who helped him begin his journey to St. Clair Place.
“Being a fan of old houses, I naturally gravitated to the rehabs. Jay showed me a boarded up house on Jefferson that NEAR had not yet started to redo,” Austin said. “We went inside, which was a huge mess after being boarded up for many years, and I fell in love with the space.”
The aforementioned version of a neighborhood bustling with street life was not the neighborhood Austin first encountered. “At the beginning, there were not very many homes that had been completed, and NEAR’s influence on the neighborhood hadn’t really begun to affect it in a positive way,” he said. “There were a great number of abandoned houses and empty lots full of trash.”
Indeed, nearly 40 percent of the properties in the neighborhood were vacant when we began building homes. Issues of drugs and crime were not helping St. Clair Place’s image. However, Andy encountered what we and so many others in the area have also found: a community centered around its people, focused on its assets.
“I met a group of neighbors — some who had lived in the area for years — who were committed to making St. Clair Place a great place to live. They were tireless in their efforts to address the urban blight and crime. In partnership with NEAR, they were organized and very energetic, and their enthusiasm was contagious.”
That infectious spirit caught hold of Andy, as he settled into his new home and became active in the community. He served as the St. Clair Place neighborhood association’s president for two years: a position that allowed him to create change in his neighborhood and meet his new neighbors. He’s excited to see that infections spirit spreading to neighbors new and old, as people move in and get more involved.
And it is with this infectious spirit that we push toward our 100th home this Summer. Through dedication and collaboration with the people who call St. Clair Place home, we are continuing our work of turning this once-blighted, declining neighborhood into a place that Andy believes is “quickly becoming one of the hot places to live.”
For Andy, number 100 symbolizes a big milestone for the neighborhood. 100 validates the efforts and risks many homeowners, renters, and organizations have made to ensure that the balance of this “transitional” area did not fall toward the negative. 100 is a big step to attracting more development and more neighbors. 100 is proof that a neighborhood can improve while remaining socially and economically diverse, without displacing any existing residents. 100 is a great number.
But, he adds, it’s not just about the numbers. “NEAR’s impact on St. Clair Place is almost immeasurable. Yes, you can count the number of homes built or rehabbed and you can list the folks who have been able to afford home ownership, but their work to build relationships and to foster good neighbors is something that is harder to quantify and may be their biggest legacy.”