As NEAR works to revitalize Indianapolis neighborhoods, maintaining affordability across a diverse cultural and income spectrum remains one of our core commitments. Yes, we welcome growing demand for homeownership. But we also focus on displacement prevention strategies. We want neighbors who have remained committed to their communities during worst of times to be able to stay and enjoy the best of times.
We follow five strategies to achieve broadly inclusive, income-diverse neighborhoods:
1. Plan with and for neighbors as stakeholders as the primary assets of the neighborhood.
This is one of the distinguishing practices of Asset-Based Community Development, which guides us. For example, in St. Clair Place, we began asking for and valuing neighbors’ perspectives in the Near Eastside Quality of Life Plan in 2007 and continued to do so through neighborhood redevelopment planning in 2009. NEAR brings ideas and pending decisions to neighbors for consideration and vetting. This transparent process includes welcoming new residents into the decision-making mix.
2. Begin with the end in mind: a vibrant, culturally diverse, mixed-income community.
A place that intentionally—by planning, policies, and relationships—values existing diversity and welcomes new neighbors has been embedded in our revitalization efforts from the start. In terms of infrastructure, this means maintaining and developing high-quality affordable housing—including assisting existing residents to repair and improve their properties. In terms of placemaking, it means shaping green spaces, pocket parks, trails, and safe walkways. In terms of relationships, it means supporting social barrier-crossing events and facilitating heartful conversations.
3. Displace no one in housing development and develop strategies to discourage displacement as equity increases.
NEAR made a basic commitment when we began: develop only vacant lots and abandoned houses. We’ve kept our word: no neighbor has been displaced in our development. The bigger challenge is to reduce instances of displacement once real estate investors start putting profits ahead of people in this neighborhood. We are working with the City of Indianapolis to advocate for property tax caps for long-term residents. We are exploring effective property covenants and shared equity initiatives that will maintain long-term affordability in an emerging housing market. Recently, the NEAR Board of Directors voted to pursue developing a community land trust (CLT). A CLT will permanently preserve affordable housing for 80% AMI homebuyers.
4. Build first for affordability for low-to-moderate income households—both for leased and owner-occupied housing.
We revitalize neighborhoods through affordable housing opportunities. A portion (32) of the houses we have developed in St. Clair Place are dedicated to permanent affordable rental housing for households with incomes at or less than 50% of the area median income (AMI). Most of the houses we develop are for affordable homeownership. This means purchase is restricted to households at or below the 80% AMI threshold (for a single individual, 80% AMI is $43,250). Thus far, we have developed and sold only four houses without an affordable housing income restriction.
5. Encourage developing relationships between and among new and existing neighbors. This is, to us, the critical value added.
Believing that what makes a neighborhood great is people more than houses, NEAR invests staff and volunteer capacities into building relationships. We support neighborhood gatherings, bring long-time and newer neighbors together, and host awareness-raising, problem-solving forums on a regular basis.
Indianapolis has come a long way since the 2008 housing crisis. Many abandoned houses and vacant lots remain, but our streets are safer, properties are being redeemed, homeownership is on the upswing, and new neighbors are embracing the opportunity to put down roots here. Notoriously bad actors that held neighborhoods hostage to exploitation, substandard housing, and violence are still present, but in retreat.
NEAR will do all we can to encourage continued healthy development of the neighborhood. The market is a long way from working on too many streets. There is a block-by-block challenge to end illegal activities and fight blight. Along with these challenges, we are dually vigilant (1) against real estate speculation that would drive out existing neighbors and (2) against the proliferation of exploitative and poorly managed rental housing.
Every day we roll up our sleeves and work to continue to develop community as we create great places for neighbors.