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Ensuring Long-Term Affordability on the Near Eastside

As 2017 comes to a close, we, like most of you, have spent a bit of time reflecting on the year that was. It’s been a whirlwind of a year, and we’re proud of many of our accomplishments.

A year ago, we announced a major milestone for NEAR: the development of our 100th house in St. Clair Place. We kicked that off in style with hundreds of our friends and neighbors at our annual luncheon at the Boner Fitness and Learning Center.

We moved to a new office and ushered in a new era for our organization: one that consists of having a street presence and opening up our space to our neighbors for forums, meetings, and conversations.

Yes, we built that 100th home. And we had a big celebration with the Mayor and all of St. Clair Place. The news teams showed up, we had a bounce house, incredible comfort food from Sisters and beer from the Mayfair Taproom, and DJs from Deckademics. It was quite the party.

We broke ground on the Teachers’ Village (which will be a big effort in 2018). We’ve led public planning meetings on the reuse of Sherman Park. We launched the NEAR Indy Guide. We’ve started a series of forums with our renting neighbors. And lots more.

We are honored to play a role in the continued redevelopment of this great neighborhood and are proud to see how much has changed over the last several years. We’re just as proud about what hasn’t changed. That is our commitment to asset-based community development.

Earlier this fall, there was some controversy caused by a real estate advertisement that, in a nutshell, praised and made light of the serious issue of gentrification: an approach to redevelopment that intentionally (or unintentionally) displaces a neighborhood’s long-time residents by pricing them out of their homes and/or apartments.

Let us be clear. This is not, never has been, and never will be NEAR’s approach to community development. When we first started, one of our neighbors described our goal by saying, “We want those who have lived here in the worst of times to be able to stay and benefit when they become the best of times.” That’s what we’re focused on. That’s what we believe. And, the uproar in response to that real estate ad has feeling hopeful that others recognize our process and feel the same way.

It’s not enough to rest on our laurels. We are proactively working to ensure the long-term affordability of St. Clair Place through five strategies. NEAR’s director John Franklin Hay expanded on these in a recent Urban Times article. In short, they are:

  • Plan with, and for, neighbors: Our neighbors are our greatest assets. Through our work, they must be listened to, respected, and honored. We make every effort to keep them engaged and be transparent along the way.
  • Begin with the end in mind: We must never lose sight of our vision of a broadly-inclusive, income-diverse neighborhood. We are intentional in our planning, in our policies, and in our relationships about developing a vibrant and culturally-rich community for all.
  • Zero displacement: We take a lot of pride in this one. We only develop vacant or abandoned lots, meaning not a single neighbor has been displaced. And, as the private market heats up in St. Clair Place, we are working to ensure investors do not put profits ahead of people.
  • Don’t forget the renters: Home ownership is undoubtedly a key piece to neighborhood renewal, but we know it’s not possible or an interest to everyone. One-third of our first 100 homes are permanently available as affordable rental housing, and we actively solicit input from renters through our Renters Forums.
  • Encourage relationships: Again, our neighbors are our greatest assets. We believe a strong community is based on strong relationships between residents old and new. Through conversations, gatherings, and volunteer events, we are committed to bringing people together and building bridges.

In 2018 and beyond, these strategies will be carried out through various tactics and projects, like our Preserving Affordable Housing Work Group, the Teachers’ Village, and Indy East Art Peace, just to name a few.

So, while we’ll still be building houses, our work goes deeper than that. Legacy neighborhoods (like St. Clair Place can become) are more than just homes. They’re places where neighbors put down roots and are committed for the long haul. We are doing everything we can to cultivate those roots, push for healthy and inclusive development in our neighborhood, and make sure those who lived here in the worst of times can stay and benefit in the best of times.