Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Employee Spotlight: The Demo Diva and the Operation Home Program

United Housing employee Cherry Brooks, the self-proclaimed “Demo Diva,” has been sorting through houses by the fistful to find ways to alleviate blight in Memphis neighborhoods. Using the National Community Stabilization Trust (NCST) program called The ReClaim Project, distressed properties are donated to nonprofits that are willing and able to take some action on getting the homes either occupied or taken down.

Cherry Brooks, Demo Diva and Housing Support at United Housing

NCST is a nonprofit focused on accelerating neighborhood revitalization across the United States by collaborating with local community development corporations and national stakeholders. ReClaim focuses in markets with low-value, non-performing assets. Memphis is one of these left behind markets and continues to get hit by the housing crisis and economic recession. Property values are not increasing making it difficult for neighborhoods to bounce back.

“So many of these homes have to be knocked down, they are in such bad shape,” Brooks said sifting through piles of photos of homes with no doors, rotten structures, falling roofs, and water damage beyond repair. A vacant lot donated to the next door neighbors—often schools, churches, or homeowners—will help to maintain the lots and is one strategy for some of the homes.   “I drive around these neighborhoods, and look around. Find out if a school or church or store would want to maintain the lot, put in a garden or park. If I’m in Frayser I’ll recommend Frayser CDC for the property, especially if it can be saved and renovated,” Brooks says.

Not all of the homes need to be torn down. Some homes can be saved and repaired. “I just showed you the good ones,” Brooks said. The “good ones” can be donated to the neighborhood’s nonprofit community development corporation to be rehabbed and rented or sold to an individual or family. Brooks adds, “But most of them are just not worth the expense.”

Those rare property gems that are salvageable are ripe to become homes for veterans – the population NCST is focusing on getting housed. The donated properties can be “sold at a discount to qualified veterans or service members or made available as mortgage-free homeownership opportunities for disabled or very low-income veterans.

United Housing is currently developing a new program called Operation Home in partnership with veteran organizations in Memphis like Catholic Charities' St. Sebastian Veteran Services  program, where they transition homeless veterans into stable housing. Operation Home has helped five veterans so far. The goal of Operation Home is to help 25 more veterans and their families become housed using NCST’s donated properties and ReClaim project. Properties that can be saved and renovated using energy-efficient, universal design, can provide accessibility standards for individuals in a wheelchair. Our goal is to supplement treatment plans from partner veteran organizations by providing a very crucial missing piece in the housing options and financial education of veterans in Memphis.

"I have 45 properties right now I am requesting through NCST," Brooks adds, "let's hope we can get some of these back in shape."

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